Superheroes and the Kingdom

I’ve always been a fan of Superman. There’s something magical about the way Superman throws himself in front of the bus…literally…to save innocents from calamity. I also have always liked Batman’s quest for justice. I cheer him on as he helps the authorities collar criminals using the super-cool batsuit and, of course, the virtually indestructible Batmobile.

batmobile

So it was with a little trepidation that I went to see Batman vs. Superman. I didn’t want to see either superhero turned into a bad guy.

It struck me as I watched the movie that America has a love affair with superheroes. We flood the theaters to watch the likes of IronMan and Superman save the day. Good vanquishes evil. The things that were meant for evil are turned into eventual good, and mankind lives on another day.

It seems to me that we all have a need for someone to save us. When the planes hit the World Trade Center, I remember thinking the footage on the television looked like a movie, only without the man in blue flying in to divert the planes elsewhere. The recent terrorist attacks all over the world also express a longing for someone to fly in, diffuse the bomb, and save the day.

When Jesus walked the earth, many of his followers thought he was the Jewish version of Superman. The people had been under the thumb of foreign nations for around 500 years and were looking for someone to bust in and save them. Suddenly here’s a guy who can do all things. He heals the sick. He walks on water. He defies the authorities and claims that he is God’s own son. He’s going to change into his supersuit and defeat the evil Roman Empire once and for all!

But…that’s not what happened.

Instead the people’s hero stood silently while charges were brought up against him. The one who was strong enough to bring a man three days dead back to life stood and did nothing to defend himself while he was stripped of his clothes and beaten.  The political unrest was so violent that his followers faded into the background, denying not only that they walked with him but that they even knew him.

***Spoiler Alert.  Don’t read the rest of this post unless you’ve already seen the Batman vs. Superman movie or don’t care if you hear spoilers!***

 

 

 

 

Once again, Superman throws himself in front of evil in order to defeat it, sacrificing himself in the process. The talon of a monster pierces his chest, and he dies. He dies! Tears filled my eyes and I sat there dumbstruck. How can Superman be dead? When I saw Lois throw soil onto his plain, pine box in the ground, my heart sunk. He was really and truly dead!

Is this how Mary and John and the other disciples felt when they stood at a distance and watched Jesus die stretched out on the cross? When Joseph of Arimathea took down Jesus’ bruised and battered body and laid it in a grave cut into the stone, was he also dumbstruck? How was it possible that the one who said He and the Father were one could be dead?

It was the Sabbath, and no work could be done, so Jesus’ dead body lay in the tomb without the benefit of anointing oils and spices. But as soon as they could, the women who loved Jesus took off for the tomb so they could prepare his body.

I can only imagine their complete astonishment to find the tomb empty, with no dead body! Later the women learn that Jesus has been resurrected. He’s alive, dead no longer, and people all over have seen him. Some of them have touched the wounds on his hands because they didn’t believe anyone could come back from death itself.

The Jesus story and superhero movies are powerful because they scratch an itch we all have — an itch to have our wrongs righted, our hopes met, our thirst for justice satisfied.

These movies show us in cinematic fashion what it is like to have a superhero at our backs. The wonderful truth is that Jesus shows us what it’s like to have a real superhero at our backs….a superhero who loves us to the point of jumping out in front of the bus that is bearing down on our deer-in-the-headlights existence. The point of the cross is more than just taking on the punishment for all the bad stuff we’ve done. The point of the cross is about the superhero jumping out in front of the Death Train and defeating it, for all time. It’s about showing us we have nothing to fear about death because it can’t conquer him. And if we are “in Him,” then it also can’t conquer us.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. from Hebrews 2

So in the movie, when the little clods of dirt begin their ascent out of the grave, we in the audience hold on to the hope that inside that pine coffin lies a resurrected Superman who has fought death…and won. In the same, gripping way, we who believe in Jesus take hope from the empty tomb because in it, Death itself has been defeated!

And this knowledge changes everything. Now it is time for love to be multiplied. Each of us has the ability to be a superhero to someone. A smile, a kind word, a helping hand. Paying it forward in the drive thru lane, bypassing the hate on the twitter feed, giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Love the one who curses you, pray for the one who hates you. Return meanness with kindness, in big ways and in small. Together we are called to be part of a real Justice and Mercy League, and it’s called The Kingdom of God.

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