I Want to Be Like Matthew CuthbertTim Kinnard
So, a bit of a disclaimer right off the bat: I have never read the whole “Anne of Green Gables” anthology of 8 or so books by Canadian author Lucy Montgomery, published in the early 1900s. I did track down and borrow from a friend an old copy of the first book in the series so I could compare that to what I know about the 1985 movie, which I have watched several times.
Like most guys growing up with a mom and a sister who were both partial to the story, and now, being married, having a wife and a daughter who also enjoy this sort of thing, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the adventures of Anne Shirley, and I won’t forget that’s Anne spelled with an “e.”
To my shame (…and I apologize to my wife for it), I’m not that romantic of a guy; I don’t get very sentimental when it comes to the whole “coming-of-age” story line, especially not one written for young women about a somewhat awkward, freckle-face, red-headed orphan girl who always has her head in the clouds, dreaming about poetry, flowers, bosom friends, and kindred spirits. That is, of course, until she begins to mature through the catalysts of a loving family, a good education, discipline, falling in love and so forth. It’s a classic girl’s story.
But I will say, whenever I watch the movie (and having also read the book), there is something about it all that grabs my attention and sparks my thinking. It first shows up somewhat early in the story as little orphan Anne arrives at the train station to be picked up by one “Matthew Cuthbert.”
Matthew is an older gentlemen in his 60’s who, because of some developing heart problems, could use an extra set of hands on the farm. With the support of his sister, Marilla (neither of whom ever married in life or had children), they set out to adopt a boy. To his surprise, the orphanage by mistake sends Anne, who obviously isn’t a boy at all.
On the carriage ride home to Matthew & Marilla’s farm known as “Green Gables,” they pass through the picturesque countryside of Prince Edward Island with its cherry trees and apple trees in blossom that immediately captures Anne’s imagination.
What jumps out at me about their commute, however, isn’t how splendid the scenery is and how delightful it would be to live there, though that is a thought that naturally comes to mind. What jumps out to me in particular is how remarkable of a character the man whose driving Anne back to the farm must have.
I don’t know how he’s portrayed in other movie versions, but the casting in the 1985 version is so compelling to me. It’s not just compelling, it’s actually convicting to me. It’s convicting because I know, if I were to put myself in his shoes, and if I had heart problems and knew that my health depended on a strong and reliable young man to help me out, only now to have a “daydreamer” on my hands who talks far more than she gets things done—not to mention, because she’s a girl, there’s not going to be much help digging post holes and plowing fields—my reaction to that whole monkey-wrench-in-the-plans would probably be a lot less charitable.
And yet, to see Matthew Cuthbert’s reaction, and the kindness, grace, and humility he displays, all I can say is, I see more Christlikeness in him than I often see in myself. By the way, I know we’re just talking about a fictional character here, but even Jesus spoke in parables and pointed to imagined characters to model righteous examples.
Of course, I’m not that familiar with where the author herself is coming from in terms of her personal beliefs, and what her own Christian convictions are that are written into the story. I will say it seems pretty obvious there are Christian references made throughout the book, and a clear Christian faith shared by most of the characters.
For example, I noticed how the main character of Anne herself is described as a Christian, though its apparent very early on that what she’s missing is a bit of discipleship. In one of the chapters, she admits she’s never been in the habit of praying very much, which she says is on account of her being upset with God because he made her with red hair. To this, Marilla reacts in shock,
“Why, Anne, what do you mean? Were you never taught to say your prayers?…Don’t you know who God is, Anne?”
Anne replies back,
“God is spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
That is a word-for-word quote of the Westminster catechism. Apparently, she’s received some Bible training. She just needs a little help saying her prayers, which Marilla proceeds to disciple her in.
In another chapter, Anne voices her appreciation for good preaching and solid sermons that “have such an influence for good, if their theology is sound” and able to stir a hearers’ heart. On that note, in one of her typical daydreams, she imagines, if she were a man, how much she would like to be a preacher and craft sermons so much more interesting than most preachers preach.
At another point she talks about her understanding of what it means to be “regenerate,” and, upon meeting the new minister’s wife, how encouraged she is that instead of being so melancholy, she has met a Christian who is full of joy, kindness, and sincerity.
I see a lot of Christian undertones in the characters. I especially see it in the Matthew Cuthbert character. Even if it’s not explicitly said, I see a kind of Christlikeness built into his temperament that speaks for itself.
Matthew is described as a shy and meek man, content to live peacefully and quietly at his home of Green Gables. He listens more than he talks. He is so gentle that he’s saddened every time he has to put down a lamb or calf. Whenever he is upset (or “perturbed of mind”), rather than expressing his anxiety with anger or frustration, his way of venting involves sitting in a chair, smoking his pipe, and calmly thinking it through. He shows kindness in his gift giving of candy and puffed-sleeve dresses. He is quick to forgive. He is an advocate for Anne when others are against her.
It is Matthew who decides first, despite the orphanage’s mistake, to adopt Anne. I find that to be such a Gospel-like display. Here is an unwanted girl, who has much to be desired in what she can offer on the farm, at least to the benefit of Matthew. Matthew has the most to lose in choosing Anne, but choose her he does, ultimately to his own demise. By the end of the book, Matthew’s heart problems don’t improve and he does end up dying from, among other things, working himself too hard.
But his sacrifice is worth it. Why? Because in choosing this little girl he ends up being blessed himself not only in the satisfaction that comes in showing grace to someone who can never pay you back, but in the joy that’s experienced in watching that person thrive because of the new life your sacrifice made possible.
Right before he dies, Anne scores high marks on one of her academic tests. Matthew is beaming with pride of Anne while at the same time drooping physically because of his declining health.
In that moment Anne notices Matthew doesn’t look so good as he goes about his farm chores:
“You’ve been working too hard today, Matthew,” she said reproachfully. “Why won’t you take things easier?”
“Well now, I can’t seem to,” said Matthew, as he opened the yard gate to let the cows through. “It’s only that I’m getting old, Anne, and keep forgetting it. Well, well, I’ve always worked pretty hard and I’d rather drop in harness.”
“If I had been the boy you sent for,” said Anne wistfully, “I’d be able to help you so much now and spare you in a hundred ways. I could find it in my heart to wish I had been, just for that.”
“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,” said Matthew patting her hand. “Just mind you that—rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl—my girl—my girl that I’m proud of.”
It’s not long after that, Matthew dies, yet he was convinced, he’d rather have Anne than a dozen boys. Never mind the fact that just one boy could have added more years to his life. This is a man did nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counted Anne more significant than himself.
Does that remind you of anyone? Philippians 2 says, speaking of Christ and the influence Christ has on those who know him:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Did you catch that? Christians are called to “have this mind among yourselves.” I find that so encouraging because, more than anything, I want to be that kind of person. I want to be like Matthew Cuthbert. I want to have the mind and heart that he had, which is first modeled for us in Christ.