Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 6th: Psalm 20; Habakkuk 3:2-15; and Luke 18:31-34. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I’m no fan of comic book hero movies. I guess another one has just come out. I have heard that there are metaphysical differences between Marvel and DC comic book heroes, and I’m surprised even that bit of news stuck in my memory. I don’t enjoy fantasy very much. I was attending a talk at my Masonic Lodge that shared some of our tenets through analogies to Star Wars. When I mentioned to the brother in front of me that I had never seen a single Star Wars film, he turned around in disbelief. Fantasy heroes are fun escapes, and from what I have heard they can be mythical lessons not that unsimiliar to those of the ancient Greek gods.
What I find uninteresting about comic book movies is that they misrepresent the idea of the heroic and heroes (my apologies to those fans who could spend hours explaining to me how wrong I am). Take another example. When GI Joe first came out as a doll – I’m sorry, an action figure, he was an ordinary looking American soldier. He has been transformed into this Hulk-like super-soldier. The original message behind GI Joe is the hero and heroic in the ordinary American soldier who conquered the blight of Nazism. To morph GI Joe into an unrealistic, impossible fighting machine, again to my mind, denigrates the heroic found in the real men and women who selflessly sacrificed for a cause worthy of that sacrifice.
When say a Peter Parker gets into a fight with a bully, what’s so interesting about someone with superpowers defeating someone without them? Isn’t this just super power envy? “How cool that would be.” But can it also have a negative impact along the lines of it takes superpowers to make an heroic difference, that ordinary is almost helpless and hopeless, that fate is for real, that we can’t make a difference and change the world? I know it sounds like I’m a fun-sucker, but these are the things I think about when I see commercials for yet another comic book movie. Escapism is fun, but it’s no answer to the world’s problems.
Heroes and the heroic are more aptly seen, for instance, in the ordinary folk in Russia who have dared to protest the war even at the cost of a possible 15 years in prison and the ruination of prospects to lead a productive life in this now despotic nation. Heroes and the heroic inspire by their bravery even when they lose. Take the impact of the ordinary Ukrainian soldier who cursed out a Russian worship rather than surrender his tiny island outpost. His words have galvanized a nation that needs hope and is finding it in the strength of its ordinary people.
And now let’s think about Jesus. Jesus is extraordinary, but as it says in Philippians, “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (2:6-7) The hero and heroic in Jesus is that in Him God has lived our ordinary life. And how strange and unexpected all of this was for remember the People of God were awaiting a powerful Saviour, not one “taking the form of a slave.” Take today’s passage from the prophet Habakkuk as but one example: “In fury you trod the earth, in anger you trampled nations. You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed.”
Is it any wonder then that when Jesus tries to explain to His closest followers that He must suffer and die that “They understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” The disciples had a lifetime expectation of an otherworldly Saviour. Jesus, on the other hand, empties Himself of the otherworldly, to be truly the hero and heroic in the worldliness of Jesus of Nazareth.
The disciples could not grasp this prior to the crucifixion. People of faith still today have trouble with Jesus as the one who saves us by showing us and helping us to be what is possible as the People of God. Some tend to think of the cross, and it is in the Bible, as only this otherworldly intervention that redeems us, that pays the price of our salvation, but the cross is also a very human Jesus showing us heroically how we can work with God to save ourselves and creation. The cross calls out the hero and heroic in each of us. If we think of the cross as only what Jesus did, then we are locked into the confusion of the disciples as in today’s Gospel. In these waning days of Lent, let us look to the cross as inspiration for how we are to live heroically.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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