As a child, Superman I-IV, especially II were some of my favorite movies ever. It was the first movie that allowed me to dream and wish that I could be like Christopher Reeves and jump large buildings in a single bound.
Some 25 years later as a minister, I can't help to see in the new recently release Superman movie obvious religious correlations related to the life of Jesus Christ. For instance, he keeps his nature mostly hidden as a child, just as Jesus did. He reveals himself to the world at age 30, the age when Jesus began his ministry. And he does so by turning himself into human authorities -- allowing himself to be "captured" for the sake of humanity. My favorite aspect of the movie is when Superman floats in space with his arms extended out as if nailed to an invisible cross, the essence of the Christian witness and the ascension of Jesus Christ.
I left the movie pleased that the modern version of Superman was actually good but pondered on the depiction of any superhero of any sort could be compared to Jesus. Or is this just plain sacrilege? Or just the reflection of us living in a secular world that has interpreted the role of Jesus as either very human in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code or superhuman manifested in superman?
But what about Jesus -- not Superman but the Son of Man? Jesus comes on the scene in the gospel of Mark as a man of action: curing the sick, casting out demons, cleansing a leper, and healing a paralytic -- all before he finishes calling his twelve disciples (2:13-19). Then he stills a great windstorm on the water and heals a demoniac, sending the man's numerous unclean spirits into a herd of 2000 swine, which immediately stampede down a steep bank into the sea, where they drown (4:35-5:13).
That would be an incredible sight on the big screen, enhanced by digital surround-sound.
This superhero Jesus is all about saving people from illness, evil, destruction and death. Fortunately, the people around Jesus can see his power clearly, and they don't mince any words. Desperate for help, they're looking to be saved by no one less than a Superman.
First comes Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He falls at Jesus' feet and begs him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well vs21-23." What he really says is, "Come ... so that she may be saved." Jesus consents to Jairus request and begins to follow him to the home of his sick daughter.
Then a woman, who has been suffering from terrible bleeding for 12 years, joins the crowd that is following Jesus. She and the others press in on him like a mob of adoring fans, and the woman says to herself, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well."
Again, what she really says is, "If I touch ... I will be saved" (vv. 24-28).
She's like a fan of the Man of Steel, dreaming of putting a single finger on the folds of his crimson cape.
So she does it. She touches him. And immediately she knows that she's been healed! She can feel it! The pain, suffering, social isolation and ritual impurity that she has endured for 12 long years are suddenly over. She has been saved!
Then the plot thickens. Like Superman in the vicinity of a piece of Kryptonite, Jesus suddenly begins to feel that his power has left him. "Who touched my clothes?" he shouts to the mob pressed in around him.
"Who touched my clothes?" Jesus needs to know.
"Uh ... like, everybody," say the disciples to themselves.
But Jesus is looking for a particular person, an utterly unique individual who has come for one reason -- to be saved.
A few more moments pass. Then the woman steps forward. Full of fear and trembling, she tells her superhero the whole truth. But instead of punishing her for his momentary power-loss, he commends her by saying, "Daughter, your faith has made you well." Literally, your faith has saved you. "Go in peace, and be healed of your disease" (vv. 29-34).
Jesus stuns the woman, and all those around her, by stating that her faith has saved her.
Not his clothes.
Not her touch.
Not anything in or on his body at all. In all the Superman trilogies I have never witnessed Superman give credit to a supernatural force beyond himself.
Instead, Jesus says that her faith is the source of her healing -- she is saved by her conviction that Jesus is the decisive expression of the power and the presence of God.
Then the scene shifts, in a dramatic turn so common in summer blockbusters. While Jesus is still speaking, some people come to Jairus with the news that his daughter is dead. But Jesus overhears this message, and says to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe" (vv. 35-36). He has just commended a woman for believing; now he turns around and commands a man to believe.
They proceed to Jairus's house, where there is a commotion being caused by people weeping and wailing. Jesus cuts through the chaos, throws the mourners out, and enters the house with only the father, the mother, and three of his disciples. Without lengthy prayers or dramatic gestures, Jesus reaches out to the child and says, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl gets up and begins to walk about (vv. 37-42).
She is saved -- not Superman but by the Son of Man. Saved by the one who carries the power and presence of God into the very middle of human life saved by Jesus, the Christ.
Jesus came for a reason, to "seek and to save those who are lost" to save us from iniquity and illness, sin and death. The key is to believe in him, rely on him and trust him to be your savior. The wandering man of Galilee is that he carries the power and presence of God into the very middle of human life, and the element of faith is what saves and not superman.
This is not necessarily a life of action and excitement. There isn't always a lot of drama associated with believing in Jesus. No "Look! Up in the air! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's ..."
No, faith is not a summer blockbuster with jaw-dropping special effects. There isn't going to be eye-popping action and earsplitting sound effects. Faith is usually seen in the silent touch of a desperate housewife, or the quiet hope of a father walking into a room filled with the smell of death.
"Do not fear," says Jesus. "Only believe."
If we do, we will be saved.
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pastorbilljr