Faith, culture and learning from Disney’s Moana

You read that right, Moana the Disney princess. A great animation with a great message that also connects to a message found in the Bible between Jesus, Martha and Mary.

Those who have watched the movie, whether by your own volition or forced to by a small human in your proximity, know that the movie is about an Island girl, who runs away from her responsibility of next Chief in line, to follow the oceans call.

Moana is also so much more than that.

In this opening song, we are introduced to Moana’s village and see a variety of people doing different tasks, most of them preparing for a big event that is coming up.

This is something many can relate to. People having different roles from cleaning, cooking, weaving and even farming. We all have roles within families, communities, congregations.

In John 12:1-8, Jesus Anointed at Bethany, people are also preparing, but in this instance the Jewish people are preparing for the Passover. Amidst the Passover preparations, a dinner is held at Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s house in honour of Jesus. We see Lazarus, Judas and others sitting at the table with Jesus, Martha serving, and Mary at Jesus’ feet.

Martha is seen taking on her dutiful role as a host, just as she has in the past. Martha is not told of for being hospitable, as for many cultures its such an important role to play, there is nothing wrong with fulfilling that.

But the weight of the message in this text is with Mary.

Martha, Mary and Jesus

Mary lives with her sister, Martha. Traditionally she would have similar duties as Martha, to prepare, to cook, to serve, while guests are in their home. But Mary hears a different call, sees a different role for herself in the presence of the Messiah.

Mary sees a different call and chooses to follow it, sitting by the Lord’s feet, carrying out an act that parallels the preparation of Jesus body during his crucifixion. This is not a role she would otherwise have within her culture.

In Moana’s village, everyone is busy and preparing for an event. We see farmers ploughing the fields, villagers gathering coconuts, fishermen with their catch, women weaving tapa and baskets, kids playing and learning dances, the lovo being cooked.

Everyone knows their roles, understand their cultural expectations, just like Martha.

But . . .

Moana hears the call of the sea. Although she has a role as the chiefs daughter, and the high expectation and responsibility that comes with that, she hears a different call.

Moana hears her call and responds to it, something that was outside of what was expected of her, just as Mary chose to defer from what is usually expected of her, Mary chooses what is better and doesn’t allow that to be taken away from her.

This does not mean that what the villagers are doing, their own roles and responsibilities, it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Moana just hears a deeper calling that is different to one that may usually be expected of her.

Today, we have many responsibilities and expectations.

Young people have responsibilities to go to school, do their school work, learn, listen to parents or guardians, be good friends.

For those who are no longer young enough to be in high school, we have responsibilities with work, families, friends, in congregations. Some of us, just like we see in Moana’s village, have important cultural roles to play, even here in Australia.

There is nothing wrong with the multiple roles we have in life, but we are challenged to be conscious of how we hear God’s call in our lives and how we respond to that call.

Moana hears her call to the sea, even as a young girl who loves her island and her people, follows that call to explore the oceans for her people.

Martha may hear her call to serve, through cooking and preparing. Honouring Jesus as their guest, as the Messiah.

Mary hears her call to sit and listen, using what she has saved, expensive ointment, to prepare Jesus for what is to come in just a few weeks.

In everything that we do that adds to who we are, school, work, church, sports, social justice, when we advocate for climate action, gender equality, opening borders refugees, speaking out against domestic violence, racism, sexism, whatever it is, be challenged to not only listen to what the Spirit is saying, but also in how you respond to what it is you hear from the Spirit.

Respond with your all, with your time, humbling yourself to the feet of Jesus, just as Mary did.

It is there where God calls us and uses us in His sacredness.

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Ofa Foiakau is the Youth/High School Ministry Lead and Field Officer (Central/West) within the PULSE team.

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