Scandalizing Jesus: Discipleship, Allegiance, and Olivia Pope

Scandal is the latest show I’ve started watching since binge-watching House of Cards and reaching grief-stage 5. The show revolves around professional “fixer” Olivia Pope (played by the marvelous Kerry Washington). A fixer is a crisis manager, an expert in public relations and the law. Pope’s character is loosely based on real-life person Judy Smith, who represented figures like Monica Lewinsky and worked as Special Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary in George W. Bush’s administration. What might distinguish Smith from the Pope character in Scandal, is that Pope is herself deeply-embedded in scandals—which simultaneously make her desperate to hide her own secrets and gives her leverage by hiding others’.

Why Olivia is the Pope

As her name suggests, Olivia Pope is a quasi-religious figure. Her gifts, experience, and line of work make it so that she enters people’s lives at their very lowest point—when their lives are suddenly and violently imploding. Her “clients” are often powerful people with a lot to lose, and “fixing” such situations gives Olivia larger-than-life status in the hearts and minds of those she’s “fixed.” The services she provides for those who come to her for help, almost always result in total life transformation. Pope performs miracles.

Pope is also a deeply intuitive character. In many of her highly-complex and urgent choices, which often carry with them far-reaching consequences (sometimes for the entire U.S), she routinely and firstly relies on “her gut.” This “gut feeling” that Pope has, is exalted to infallible status—not unlike the Roman Pontiff speaking “ex cathedra”—since her team claims “her gut is never wrong.” (Of course, Olivia is regularly wrong, but her errors of judgment are either covered up or mostly ignored.) Which leads us to consider the allegiance of her team.

Discipleship and Allegiance

Olivia’s “firm” consists of both lawyers, non-lawyers, and one scary killer spy. The common denominator is that they’ve all themselves been “fixed.” Olivia has intervened in their lives, saving them from humiliation, prison, death, or all three. When they speak of Pope’s powers, they speak from first-hand experience, and they are convincing. Their lives have been transformed, and there is no going back. They are changed people, new creatures. In fact, they owe Olivia their lives—they would not be who they are without her. Their fundamental identity is different because of who she is and what she’s done for them.

In the episode, “Spies Like Us,” Harrison, a member of Olivia’s team, notices that she is bothered by something.

Harrison: What do you need?

Olivia: Harrison…

Harrison: What do you need? [pause] Whatever it is that’s going on. Whatever it is that you’re thinking about when you’re sitting in here by yourself, tell me what you need and I will do it, no matter what.

Olivia: You don’t want to get involved.

Harrison: I owe you.

Olivia: You don’t.

Harrison: The night I got arrested, you came and sat with me, in a holding cell, for hours. I owe you.

Olivia: It was my job.

Harrison: Don’t insult me by calling me your job, because I’m not your job. I’m your family, I’m your gladiator, and that is not a job to me. That’s who I am. [pause] And right now you need me, so… No questions asked, no matter what. Whatever you need. Give me some marching orders Liv.

Olivia Pope’s intervention in Harrison’s life was transformative. In response, he has dedicated his life to serving Olivia and doing what she does. He is now a “fixer,” and he recruits other “fixers.”

Follow me, and I will make you fixers of men. – Olivia Pope

Discipleship is another way of saying apprenticeship. An apprentice is one who emulates her or his Master. An apprentice studies under her or his Master knowing one day they will do the same things. Harrison is Olivia’s apprentice, Olivia’s disciple.

Are You a Jesus-disciple?

Hey, you! Yeah, you! I know you call yourself a Christian… but are you a Jesus-disciple?

Has he transformed your life in such a radical way that your fundamental identity is different? Do you remember when you were most alienated from God, most lost, most hurting, and Jesus showed up, sat with you, rescued you, and showed you a new way to live?

And if you’ve been transformed, been rescued, have a new identity, are you also seeking to rescue others? Are you acting like your Master? Are you on a mission?