I went to see “Man of Steel.”
I liked it. Didn’t love it.
Prior to seeing the movie, I had been told time and time again about how much Jesus imagery there was in the movie. So, naturally, as someone in professional ministry, I prepared myself to lead the audience in an altar call following the film.
Unfortunately, Man of Steel did not turn out to be quite the modern reinterpretation of the gospel that I was led to believe, or which Warner Bros. hoped pastors would believe to help them sell more tickets.
Was there some Jesusy stuff in the movie? Sure. Superman has a unique birth, he sort of sacrifices himself to save the world but not really, there is a not so subtle moment where he is sitting in church in front of a stained glass image of Jesus, and another scene in which he hovers in a sort of crucifix position.
Past that, I really didn’t see the Jesus connection.
Ok, that’s not exactly true.
I didn’t see a Jesus-type character in the movie.
But I did see the type of character that many of us want Jesus to be.
Superman is the quintessential American hero who leaps over every obstacle, ignoring international boundaries to fly in to beat up a bad guy and save the day, while doing no small amount of damage along the way, which he is apparently not responsible for.
He is the incarnation of the big, strong, good looking, take no prisoners archetype we idolize in America and which so many of us wish we could be.
That is to say, he’s nothing like Jesus.
Superman flies in at the speed of sound, flashy red cape in tow.
Jesus comes in humble and meek, riding on a donkey.
Superman is invincible.
Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.
Superman kills his enemies or at least beats them to a bloody pulp.
When it came time for Jesus to confront his enemies, he died for them.
If anything, Jesus is the anti-Superman.
(As my friend Jeff remarked, “Remember that god-awful ‘Tougher than Nails’ country song? Missed the point ENTIRELY.”)
So why this affinity for likening Jesus to the Man of Steel.
We, in the Western world, are deeply conditioned to choose the heroic over the saintly. We want to be heroes, we don’t really want to be saints. For the hero, the meaning of life is honor. For the saint the meaning of life is love.
The way of Jesus is the way of the saint, and yet, its the way of the hero that we tend to glorify. But an honest reading of the Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that Jesus was teaching something radically different and at the cross Jesus lived all that he taught. The life of co-suffering love is the paradigm of the saint and it is how Jesus lived and died.
Jesus is not a heroic general who slaughters his enemies, but a suffering saint who forgives his enemies. Jesus saves the world not by shedding the blood of his enemies but by allowing his own blood to be shed in an act of redemptive love.
When we cast Jesus as a hero, we are just like Jesus’ Jewish audience. We are looking for someone else, something else. Someone bigger, better, stronger.
Jesus was a poor outcast, but we recast him as a conquering king.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but we fight them in his name.
Jesus tells us it is the poor who are blessed, but we lust after the American dream.
Jesus bids us come and die, but we do everything we can to get out of life alive.
Jesus is no man of steel.
He is a man of the cross.
To portray him otherwise, puts us in the same territory as Joe Diffie singing that god-awful country song. Perhaps, many of us in the West have missed the point ENTIRELY.