700 chapters. All it took was 700 chapters and some 15 years to see our heroes achieve their ultimate aims – Naruto becomes hokage, Sakura marries Sasuke (not necessarily a bad thing), and Sasuke…well Sasuke finds love, which as he admits in chapter 699, is probably what he and Naruto wanted all along. Strange that Sasuke set out with vengeance in mind only to find that love was the answer. But perhaps that’s not unusual after all.
In our own lives, we all have certain aims, which are usually apart from love (and certainly apart from love of God, for which we were made). We may not want to destroy an entire village out of a need to avenge our clan, but our goals may still be wayward – success, luxury, comfort, sex, wealth. But unlike Sasuke, for most, the story doesn’t end on a note or redemption, at least not one connected to grace. But if we can take a manga as example, there’s hope for all of us, even if takes many years for our story to turn into one of salvation.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9
Path of Destruction
Sasuke’s road throughout the entirety of the series has been one of violence. As a child, he violently puts off any attempts from others to befriend and love him, and of course, as he grows, he commits heinous acts – some would say (and some have said) those that have put him past the point of redemption. Murder and death are only the prime examples of the many evil things Sasuke did to attain his goals; he also hurt those closest to him (Sakura especially). Our lives follow similar paths without Christ – where we leave broken hearts and bitterness in our pursuit of whatever fills our heart, sometimes to the pain of others, and often toward the destruction of our own selves.
Path of Reconciliation
After a couple of false starts, Sasuke finally realizes what he’s missing and what needs – love. Sasuke learns the hard way that you cannot make change on your own – that we all need to be rescued. Naruto was rescued by the significant people in his life that showed him love when he was on a wayward path; as Naruto closed, Sasuke was finally saved in a similar way, shown love by Naruto not because he deserved it, but just for who he is. Looking at the lengths that Naruto went to in order to save him, a sinner (as Sasuke readily admits his faults by the end of the series), even losing part of his arm, Sasuke realizes that reconciliation comes through surrendering and embracing that love.
On another note, notice that Kakashi offers Sasuke forgiveness on behalf of the village, remarking that he did not deserve it. It’s basically only through Naruto, the town’s savior, speaking on his behalf that Sasuke is pardoned from punishment. Naruto acts as a priest, defending Sasuke and speaking for him. Naruto paid a price he didn’t deserve – pain, hurt, his physical body – so that one who deserved punishment could be set free. It’s the same with us, as Christ works on our behalf to grant us freedom from punishment and restoring our relationship with God, though we don’t deserve it, when we come to embrace his gracious love.
Path of Maturation
The story doesn’t end with Sasuke’s restoration, however. Note that there’s still more to the tale, as Sasuke decides to leave the village. Though he speaks of atonement, we can look at his upcoming journey instead as growth, an exploration of his past sin and of his future. Salvation isn’t enough – what are you saved unto? What can you do now? Sasuke will take the time to figure these things out, and as seen in chapter 700 of Naruto, he continues to explore even years later. In Christian life, we begin the process of growth once we receive Christ, and our growth spiritually and, indeed, as individuals, is a lifelong process.
Path of Love
Chapter 700, of course, dropped the biggest bombshell of all – Sasuke ends up marrying Sakura. A lot of fans are angry – and for better reason than just plain shipping wars. After all, you know, Sasuke has tried to kill Sakura and has only treated her with utmost contempt – until now, that is, as he apologizes and slowly begins to offer her affection. Sakura, in turn, has obviously offered forgiveness to Sasuke – she, like Naruto, shows grace to one who doesn’t deserve it. She wipes the slate clean, giving Sasuke a chance at a new beginning.
The transformed Sasuke seems to live a rather solitary life (not ideal in Christian terms). However, even then, his change can’t help but affect others. Most obviously we see images of a happy Sakura and of Salada, the couple’s daughter. Almost despite himself, Sasuke has affected others positively (I think we’ll see this explored further, some, in the upcoming movie). And that, too, happens when a Christian grows – our outpouring of love for Christ becomes an outpouring of love for others as we shower the world with grace. We can’t help but love others, because He loved us.
And ultimately, that’s the story of Naruto – the story of how gracious love can redeem, both as it did for Naruto himself early in the series, and then expressed through him to Sasuke throughout and at the series end. And maybe, also, that’s why Naruto has gripped so many of us, because this story of grace and redemption is a story we all want – we all need – to hear and see in our lives. Sasuke’s story is the story of us all. It’s just for some, we’ve still to write our ending.