Superman, Modern Day Heroes and Christ

Mark 5:21-43

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 coming.

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 Christmas.

"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 saved!

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; it's…."

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/ Timothy Merrill essay on the movie "Superman Returns." Essay on the movie "Superman Returns" by Sister Rose Pacette.

Read more sermons by Pastor Brie