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It’s A Wonderful Life – “I’ll Take 242 Dollars”

The Power of Forgiving Christlike Love to Those Around Us!

 By Richard Allen – December 18, 2023

This is a second Seasonal Blog based on Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Two years ago, in 2021, I encouraged us by writing: “With Jesus Christ, It Is A Wonderful Life.” As the Advent Holiday approaches, I am once again inspired to use another life lesson from this idealistic movie as the basis for my weekly Blog.  The starting place for this week’s blog might seem quaint to say the least, as I’m using a side character in the movie about which we learn very little, though we see him in two scenes. The character is named Tom, and we know next to nothing about him other than: “He had a savings account at The Bailey Building and Loan, and he’s a bit of a selfish jerk.” He’s in one scene early in the movie, and one at the end. What makes Tom stand out is that with no obvious explanation, Tom drastically changes from the beginning to the end of the movie. And he changes because of George Bailey’s ability to show Tom Forgiving Christlike Love!  I can’t think of a better message to hear, entering the Advent Season!

To set the stage, we need to remember that George Bailey was a faithful son who stayed behind during the dark days of the Depression to help his Uncle Billy run his father’s business, The Bailey Building and Loan. George, a gifted man in his own right, wanted to leave his small town, Bedford Falls and see the world, building great skyscrapers and doing great things. Sadly, he’s never able to leave, always making personal sacrifices for the good of others. But as he finds out, his life was not a failure. He helps a lot of people and marries a wonderful gal named Mary, who had loved him since they were children. After they marry, George hopes he can at least take her on an amazing honeymoon with the $2,000 dollars (a king’s ransom in the late 1920’s), that he had saved. He plans to take her to see Europe and parts of the world he’s been pining for. But that dream is also taken off the table when Bedford Falls experiences a “run on the bank,” quite common in the years following the Stock Market Crash in 1929. Showing her own character and worth – in the nick of time, Mary willingly offers their $2,000 honeymoon funds to keep The Bailey Building and Loan afloat and help the common men and women who were shareholders in The Bailey Building and Loan.

There’s a marvelous scene (pictured above) at The Bailey Building and Loan. Common everyday people are waiting to withdraw a little money from their meager savings, to meet immediate financial needs. As George arrives to work at The Bailey Building and Loan, he sees a line of depositors pressing to get up the stairs and gain access to the service counter, hopeful of drawing out enough money to last until the “failed bank reopens.” But sadly, The Bailey Building and Loan doesn’t have much cash on hand.  So, George explains to a worried depositor named, Charlie:

“No, but you... you... you're thinking of this place (The Bailey Building and Loan) all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money's not here. Your money's in Joe's house ... (nods to one of the men) ... right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin's house, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and then, they're going to pay it back to you as best they can. Now what are you going to do?  Foreclose on them?” []

In this exchange, George Bailey explains the economics of a community Building and Loan, the start of our modern Credit Unions. As Scripture teaches us, “We are our brother’s keeper,” and we’re called upon to love and care for one another in our communities, and as followers of Jesus Christ! So, when the next shareholder named Tom, comes to the counter with an unyielding demand to withdraw all of his 242 Dollars and close his account, George engages Tom in an honest discussion. George realizes Tom is panicked over the run on the bank. He has also heard that Henry Potter (the richest man in town and George’s nemesis), is paying .50 cents on the dollar for shares in The Bailey Building and Loan, Tom and others are ready to sell. So, with limited cash (George and Mary’s $2,000 Honeymoon funds), George tries to reduce Tom’s request to receiving the dollar amount he absolutely needs to get by. But Tom is adamant and states:

“I got two hundred and forty-two dollars in here, and two hundred and forty-two dollars isn't going to break anybody.”

Eventually, George ends up giving Tom the 242 Dollars, to which Tom replies:

“That'll close my account.” Then George replies: Your account’s still here, that’s a loan.”

Being completely honest, I think I would have said: “Bye Tom, and good riddance.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Tom wasn’t worried about his neighbor, just himself. And Tom did not care if George and Mary Bailey were able to stretch their honeymoon funds to help all the needy people who showed up at The Bailey Building and Loan. Not to rationalize Tom’s behavior, it’s easy to understand the Tom character as played by veteran actor, Edward Keane. The character was a senior citizen, fearful and worried for his own well-being.  The person who acts completely different than we would expect, was George Bailey.  Why wouldn’t George show his anger, or let Tom just “close his account,” and be done with him?  The answer is: “George was showing forgiving Christlike love!”  And George’s behavior, though not typical, ends up changing Tom.  To see this, we need to flash forward to the end of the movie. Without rehashing the storyline, George, through no fault of his own, ends up with an $8,000 shortfall at The Bailey Building and Loan. Standing on a bridge outside town, George laments: “It would have been better if I had never been born.” Desperate[RA1]  to make up the shortfall, George prepares to jump off the bridge into the river, taking his own life, so his estate could collect the $5,000 pay-out.

But an Angel named “Clarence” prevents George from committing suicide, and then decides to grant George’s wish: Allow George to see “what life would have been like if he’d never been born.” This experience is a real eye-opener, as George realizes that his one life had a much greater impact on Bedford Falls and its residents than he imagined. George had done much good for his family and community. After several rough encounters with Mary – who was never his wife in this alternate universe where he was never born – George runs through Bedford Falls – completely terrified with the world that his absence had created. And now George ends up on the Bridge where he had contemplated killing himself. As he stands there, he cries out a prayer:

“I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

In an instant, Heaven grants his wish and the world is reset again, back to a world in which George is alive – even if he has financial problems with an $8,000 shortfall at The Bailey Building and Loan.  His policeman friend, Bert, spots him on the bridge and yells: “We’ve been looking all over for you.” George is brought back home to witness friends, family and neighbors crowded into his parlor, with a huge collection basket sitting on the table, as visitors file by to give cash toward George’s financial crisis.  It’s here that we see Tom again. The first of many to file by, opening his wallet and dropping money into the basket. Yes, the same Tom who was so insistent on getting his 242 Dollars many years ago during the Depression, now offers George assistance in his time of need. The scene is a joyful outpouring of kindness and love, many of the people whom George had touched, take a brief moment on Christmas Eve to show their own benevolence to him. Tom doesn’t speak but one line, but his words remind us of the earlier scene, when Tom didn’t show the same kindness that he now was demonstrating.  As Tom files up to the basket, he off-handedly comments to George:

“What is this, George?  Another run on the bank?”

It’s then we realize that Tom had kept his account open at The Bailey Building and Loan. And now, an even older and wiser Tom responds with kindness to George’s plight. This proves again a Biblical principle: “Hate doesn’t defeat Hate, only Love does!” Showing Mercy and Forbearance is not a weakness or character flaw, it’s the Power of Patient, Forgiving Christ-Like Love in Action!  In many ways Tom’s turn-a-round shows what God does in each of us whom He saves: He Changes us from “selfish stubborn sinners” to “tender-hearted and kind saints” by showing us “Forgiveness and Christlike Love.” 

At this Christmas Season, we have much to be thankful for, especially that God has shown mercy to His Church, changing us from selfish sinners into godly saints. In fact, this is the message of this Season of Advent: God’s forgiving love and patience toward each of us, and it was accomplished by that Babe lying in a Manger. God could easily have closed our accounts and left us to the whims of “Old Man Potter.”  By Christ’s forgiving love our accounts are still open, and we still have access to God’s riches and blessings. May all of my readers experience a life of Forgiving Christlike Love. If we do, we can have a huge impact on those around us as “salt and light” in a dying world.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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