July 29, 2014

The Homily

 Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_-_Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_-_WGA22268He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

(Isaiah 53:3, NRSV)

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”  (John 18:36, NASB)

Man Of Steel, the new Superman movie, opened in theaters across the county this weekend. It is once again a “series reset,” telling the story of Kal-El from Krypton who is sent to earth Moses-like in a cosmic basket. He is found by John and Martha Kent and raised as their son, though he is obviously “special.” When Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent, reaches the age of 33, he begins using his special powers to help others, render justice, and set wrongs right. Sound like an enjoyable flick to watch? Sure.

And yes, there are plenty of ways that Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman looks like Jesus. One would have to be blind to miss these. There are already critics saying the Messiah message is a bit overwhelming. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t comment on that aspect. But I did come across something this week related to the movie that makes me upset. It seems Warner Bros. studio is pushing the Jesus connection heavily to pastors and churches, encouraging preachers to take to their pulpits today and share the message of SuperJesus, the “Original Superhero.” They even commissioned a seminary-trained professor from Pepperdine to write a sermon that connects the dots between Superman and Jesus.

I am not going to take time here to point out how moneychanger-like any church who uses this prepared sermon would become. What bothers me the most is the idea that Jesus is a superhero, here to save the day, right wrongs, and make our lives in this world so much better. The very idea of making Jesus into a superhero with superhero powers is sacrilegious. Jesus is God, the Creator, the Sustainer. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is the Supreme Word. He is very God of very God. When he took on the form of a man, he became completely human.

Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. (Philippians 2:7, The Message)

Yes, Jesus performed miracles, such as opening blind eyes and causing the lame to walk and even raising the dead. But he said that we would do greater works than he did if we but believe on him. He was not a superhero granted superhero powers to make all things right. Things were most assuredly not right when Jesus walked this earth, and have not been right since his death and resurrection. At least, not “right” in our view. We read clearly in our New Testament passage this morning that his kingdom is not to be found in this world, and thus our looking for a superhero to set this world “right” is misplaced.

Robert Capon reminds us that Jesus only saves the lost.

He saves losers and only losers. He raises the dead and only the dead. And he rejoices more over the last, the least, and the little than over all the winners in the world. That alone is what this losing race of ours needs to hear, even though it can’t stand the thought of it.

We don’t like to talk about that, because it reminds us that we are losers, and that we are dead. That there is nothing good in ourselves. But that is the truth.

Perhaps some want a superhero savior to put their foes in their places. Others may want a Superman Jesus to give them material goods and status and power. Others still just want to avoid suffering of any kind. I’m sorry, but Jesus is not a superhero. He is not Superman. He is Christ the King. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Suffering Servant. And if you will not take him as he is, he does not give us the option to shape him as we want him to be.

So enjoy the movie. Yet when you come out of the theater, remember who your Savior is, and who he isn’t.

 

Comments

  1. Jeff, you hit this one out of the park!

  2. Yes, Yes, Yes!

  3. Picking Jesus figures out of pop culture is a freshman game and does nothing to save anyone or advance the Gospel. I was teaching Superman and Cool Hand Luke as Christ figures in pop culture classes back in the 70s.

  4. Well, if I needed another reason not to go see this film, now I’ve got it.

    Warner Brothers obviously are trying to get more customers to pay to see this film. If they thought they could market it to the Smurfs and make money, that’s what they’d campaign to do.

    Why a pastor of a church should fall for this kind of malarkey, however, puzzles me. Is it a good, clean film with no swearing or sex so you can recommend your congregation go see it? Fine, but surely people can figure out for themselves based on the ratings and reviews if it has ‘objectionable content’.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Martha, there is even a Christian(TM) Pro Wrestling franchise out there whose gimmick is “No Cursing and No Scantily-Clad Women”. Smurf the Smurfs, this is marketing to Church Ladies; as long as you push the right Godly/Gospelly buttons (AKA “no swearing or (gasp) SEX”), they’ll go for it and dance the Church Lady Superiority Dance.

    • I’ve always been a little bit of a Superman (and Bat Man) fan, so I wanted to see this movie before hearing that the movie studio may be trying to market it to churches. I still would like to see it.

      I wrote more about it in a post at the bottom of the page.

      At HUG. I actually find the tendency to market products in the manner you describe than a movie studio taking a Non Christian property (like Superman) and trying to convince Christians to go see it a little bit more tacky…

      IIRC, from what I read, the creators of Superman were Jewish guys, and they intentionally based some of the Superman lore around Old Testament/ Messiah biblical passages. I noticed the Jesus and Moses parallels when I was a kid, just from reading about Superman and watching the Christopher Reeve movies; I didn’t need a movie studio to point it out.

      What I find a bit more annoying are companies that take a product like flip flops, stamp the word “Jesus” (or cross symbols) on the soles, and claim it’s “Christian” (see Christian Flip Flops)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Or you take a G1 My Little Pony knockoff, print a Bible-verse Zip Code for a cutie mark, and call it “Praise Ponies”. (I got Chaplain Mike once with that — he thought I was making it up until he found it on a search.)

        Many-many years ago, I heard a radio interview with the editor of Wittenburg Door. He liked to collect the tackiest items he could find in Christian Bookstores. The ones I remember offhand are:
        * “Scripture Soap” — soap bars with Bible verses embossed on them. “Faith is the substance of things SOAPED for.”
        * “Audiobook Bible: RED LETTER EDITION” — all Jesus’ words are recorded at high-volume with an echo effect.
        * “Certified non-alcoholic Communion grape juice — Bottled by Christians in the Holy Land” — do I really need to say any more?

        Tip: If your pitch sheet says “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”, that’s NOT a good sign.

  5. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    Amen brother Jeff!

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    What bothers me the most is the idea that Jesus is a superhero, here to save the day, right wrongs, and make our lives in this world so much better.

    Didn’t Charlie Sheen make the same claims about himself in that rant of his a couple years ago?

  7. Robert F says:

    Since Warner Bros. is marketing the film to Christian churches, they should give it a new title to appeal to the target audience: “The Passion of the Superman.”

    • Robert F says:

      Although I like the title “The Will-to-Power of the Ubermensch” better.

      • I like it, but that would not sell to Christian audiences. Once they figured out what you meant.

        • Robert F says:

          Well, I’ve never been much of a salesman, “and so there goes your proof….”

      • dumb ox says:

        It makes sense. If evangelicals accept Ayn Rand, why not Nietzsche?

        • Come to think of it, you’re right. And social Darwinism in economics, although they don’t even see it.

        • Robert F says:

          Well, Nietzsche was a real philosopher, and a rigorous thinker (however much I may disagree with his thinking) who exhibited real intellectual courage by not shying away from the conclusions to which his thinking took him; he would have laughed scornfully at Rand’s philosophy of so-called Objectivism. Rand, on the other hand, was a hack, producing potboiler philosophy equal in cultural value to the poetry of Rod McKuen or the novels of Dan Brown. Nietzsche is a thinker who needs to be dealt with, and whom it pays dividends to deal with; Rand is unworthy of any attention, and it’s best to not waste one’s time with her.

          That’s why some evangelicals like Rand, but could never tolerate Nietzsche.

    • they should give it a new title to appeal to the target audience: “The Passion of the Superman.”

      But would Mel Gibson direct?

      • Robert F says:

        Actually, I was thinking that the film auteur, Kirk Cameron, should produce, direct and have the lead role as The Superman. In fact, just make Kirk Cameron the actual title of the movie; that will guarantee mobs of evangelical viewers fighting each other to get into the theaters.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Because that would make it CHRISTIAN(TM).

          P.S. Guest-starring Ray Comfort and his YEC Banana Act?

          P.P.S. Can you tell I am NOT a fan of Christianese media?

      • dumb ox says:

        “Bulletproof rather than “Fireproof”?

  8. I guess I’m not that offended by someone seeing a similarity of sorts between Christ and a comic book figure, or wanting to point those similarities out. I actually find it interesting, not disrespectful.

    There were Messiah-like parallels in other movies, such as Neo in The Matrix trilogy.

    Original post: “and make our lives in this world so much better.”

    He didn’t come to make our lives better, not at all? Christ did say he came to give us life more abundantly, and I don’t think he just meant the afterlife.

    While I disagree with the “Prosperity Gospel,” which seems to say God promised us smooth sailing at all times in life, neither do I agree with those who argue that God does not want us happy in this life at all, never ever, and that He only cares about “making us holy,” that God does not give a whit about our earthly pain, sadness, and so on.

    Jesus turned water into wine at an earthly wedding. He fed hungry people fish and bread he multiplied. Oh yeah, I’d say God is concerned to an extent with our earthly happiness and our earthly needs.

    • dumb ox says:

      Redemption is a theme which runs through many stories, regardless of religious influence or lack thereof. I question whether the Superman plot is redemptive. He represents a strong moral character which upholds societal ideals of morality and justice. It is interesting to read in the Superman Wiki entry that the original Superman championed what would now be considered liberal causes for social justice. Superman, according to Siegel and Shuster, was influenced by mythical stories, like Hercules, as well as Moses (Kal-El being very similar to the Hebrew for “Voice of God”). Usually a redemption story involves the rescue of one character (from circumstances, villains, or oneself) through the sacrifice or selfless act of another. Superman uses his powers to save, but not in what would call a redemptive way. He is the moral ideal to which many try reduce Jesus (i.e. good, moral teacher, but not Savior and Lord of all).

      The Wiki article also claims that the Siegel-Shuster Superman bears no resemblance to Nietzsche’s “ubermensch”, because he does uphold society’s religious and moral standards.

      That is my opinion. But the story of Superman, as well as Star Wars for that matter, reveals that the meta-narrative has power to capture deep longings of the human condition. Like Star Wars or Matrix, it is best not to try to Christianize those stories but let them stand on their own. The church’s responsibility is to consider why these stories capture the human imagination while it’s presentation of the Gospel meta-narrative for the past 100+ years does not.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      There were Messiah-like parallels in other movies, such as Neo in The Matrix trilogy.

      There are “Messiah-like parallels” in My Little Pony fanfics. Usually done better than any in Official Christianese Media. (Though I prefer the term “Gospel echoes”, which I know from experience are very hard to pull off without sounding stupid.)

  9. Vega Magnus says:

    Just got back from Man of Steel. It isn’t very good.

    • Can you explain more? I read reviews that said the first part was good but that the big fight scenes between Superman and Zod are too long and repetitive.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Zod? Sounds like a remake of the second Superman movie from the Seventies/Eighties.

  10. A couple of things:

    1) This messiah-Jesus isn’t new. I remember when seeing the Christopher Reeve Superman film back in the ’80s, there was a scene where Kal-El (or probably Clark Kent by then) was communing with his dead father Jor-El (maybe a commissioning of the prophet? Can’t remember.), and Jor-El said, “I have sent you, my only son.” My wife and I just looked at each other, it was so obvious. Also, I’ve always wondered about the -El ending in their names, which is one of the Hebrew names for God.

    2) If you really want your Jesus to be a comic-book super-hero, look no farther than the Infancy Gospel of Thomas—although that Jesus is more like arch-enemy Lex Luthor, or maybe even a Bizarro. Or you could read the National Enquirer. Whatever.