An almighty father sends his son to earth. He puts him here for
a purpose. "They can be a great people," says the father. "They
only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason, above
all-their capacity for good-I have sent them you, my only son."
On earth, the son fights hard for truth and justice. He
displays amazing abilities and incredible insights, but sometimes
he feels that his power is being drained out of him. After a
dramatic battle with the forces of evil, he is killed. But then he
is resurrected and ascends into heaven. He returns in a second
This is the story of Jesus, right? Well, yes, it is. But it is
also the story of Superman.
Although I saw the movie last Tuesday night at a 10pm opening
previous to its nationwide opening on Wednesday, in today's
sermon, "Superman, Modern Day Heroes and Christ," I draw heavily
on a movie review by Timothy Merrill, executive Editor of a
magazine, "Homiletics," and one by Sister Rose who is the director
of The Pauline Center for Media Studies and has a blog site on the
Internet where she reviews movies.
Many believers who have reflected on the 1978 film "Superman:
The Movie" noticed that it provided parallels with the Gospel. It
seemed to have been written "with attention to both the theology
of the Incarnation and the words of St. John's Gospel about the
relation of the son to the Father." (According to "Lights,
Camera…Faith: A Movie Lectionary, Cycle A" by Peter Malone and
Sister Rose Pacette.) That movie, "Superman: The Movie" has some
close parallels to the readings for the Second Sunday of
"Superman Returns," which opened this past week, has some
incredible parallels to our Gospel reading today, as well as to
the life of Jesus in general, especially the Passion story.
Superman is a Christ-figure, that is, a character that embodies
some aspects of the person and mission of Jesus, but with some
flaws or imperfections.
Lex Luthor, the arch villain, is a parallel to Pontius Pilate
or even Caesar, and his guards torture Superman and gamble at
cards. . The Daily Planet staff, (the newspaper for which Clark
Kent [aka Superman] works) like the evangelists and witnesses of
Jesus' life, write down everything they have seen and heard.
In this latest version of the Superman story, you'll see his
arms outstretched, as though he is being crucified, and Superman's
side is pierced for humanity and his resurrection is magnificent.
The man of steel is back, and we're glad of it because as a
nation we are pretty wild about our superheroes. Women want to be
WITH them, and men want to BE them. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld
says, "Spider-Man, Superman, Batman…men don't see these as
fantasies, they see them as career opportunities." We men and
women today need our superheroes so badly that we make just about
anyone into a superhero. Then of course we are stunned into
disappointment as they fail us.
One of the writers of the Superman comic strip says that his
superhero adheres to "a Kryptonian-based belief system (Superman
came from the planet, Krypton) centered on monotheistic
philosophy," that is, a belief in one God. Novelist John Byrne
says that he has "always imagined Superman to have a fairly
matter-of-fact attitude toward faith-he believes in God, but he
does not make a big deal about it." So, Superman is a believer;
but he's not going to force his faith on anyone.
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. Then he stills a great windstorm on the water and heals
a demoniac, sending the man's numerous unclean spirits into a
heard of 2000 swine, which immediately stampede down a steep bank
into the sea, where they drown.
This superhero Jesus is all about saving people from illness,
evil, destruction and death. In fact, the Greek word for "save"
comes up again and again in Mark's gospel, although it is usually
reduced to bland English words such as "heal" or "get well."
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.
In the movie, Lois Lane has written a piece entitled "Why the
World Doesn't Need Superman," and she adds her own words to this,
"and neither do I." On the roof-top of the Daily Planet, Superman
asks her to be still and listen and asks her what she hears. She
says "nothing." He says he can hear everything. He can hear the
people crying out-crying out for a Savior. There are three women
that really stand out in "Superman Returns"-Lois Lane, the
romantic interest; Kitty, whom Luthor just uses, and she lets him,
but she like the faithful women of the gospels, becomes a hero;
and Martha, Clark's foster mother who stands by him and lets him
be the man he was created to be.
In our gospel lesson today, which is one of my very favorites,
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." What he really says is, "Come…so that she may be saved." Of
course, being an authentic superhero, Jesus goes with him.
Then a woman, who has been suffering from terrible bleeding for
twelve 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 can just touch his clothes, I will be made
well." Again, what she really says is, "If I touch, I will be
saved." She's like a fan of the "Man of Steel," dreaming of
putting a single finger on the folds of his crimson cape.
So the woman in our gospel story does it. She touches Jesus.
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 twelve long years is suddenly over. She has been
Then the plot thickens. Like Superman in the vicinity of a
piece of green Kryptonite, Jesus suddenly begins to feel that his
power has left him. "Who touched my clothes?" Jesus shouts in the
mob pressed in around him. Nobody answers. "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 momentary power-loss, he commends her
by saying, "Daughter, your faith (which also translates as
"belief") has made you well." Literally, your belief has saved
you. "Go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 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. 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
movie blockbusters. While Jesus is still speaking, some people
come to Jairus with the news that his daughter id dead, but Jesus
overhears this message, sees the expression on Jairus' face and
says to him, "Don't be afraid, only believe." He knows the power
of fear can destroy one's belief. He has just commended a woman
for believing; now he turns around and commands a man to believe.
They proceed to Jairus' house and 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 around. She is saved-not by 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.
Lois Lane wasn't right. The world DOES need a savior! (and
later writes another article to that effect).
Jesus came for a reason, to "seek and save those who are lost."
To save us from iniquity and illness, sin and death. He comes to
us because God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so
that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have
eternal life. The key is to believe in him. To rely on him. To
trust him to be our Savior.
We do this when we devote a week of vacation to a mission trip
along the Gulf coast, or help build a house for Habitat for
Humanity, confident that we'll see the face of our savior in the
people we serve. We do this-believe in, rely on, trust Jesus, when
we give a tithe, or consistently work toward giving a tithe to
God's work, trusting that our needs will be met if we are faithful
in our commitments. We do this when we face an uncertain future
with confidence, believing that the Lord is always working for
good in our lives. We do this when we make an effort to be loving
and forgiving…not because such actions are easy or gratifying, but
because Christ has always been loving and forgiving toward us.
This is not necessarily a life of action and excitement. There
isn't always a lot of drama associated with believing in Jesus.
There isn't any "Look up in the air! It's a bird; it's a plane;
No, faith and belief are not summer blockbusters with
jaw-dropping special effects. There isn't going to be eye-popping
action and earsplitting sound effects. Faith and belief are
usually seen in the silent touch of a determined housewife, or the
quiet hope of a father walking into his little daughter's room-a
room filled with the smell of death
"Don't be afraid," says Jesus. "Only believe." If we do, we
will be saved. Jesus will not fail us or disappoint us. Jesus is
the only superhero we need.
Sources: "The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman." The Religion of Superman Website:
http/www.adherents.com/lit/comics/Superman.html. Timothy Merrill
essay on the movie "Superman Returns." Essay on the movie
"Superman Returns" by Sister Rose Pacette.