I don’t mean to be picky or to be “that guy” but I really don’t like the idea that Jesus is the greatest hero or superhero of all time. I’m also not into the idea that superheroes of various kinds are reflective of a deep human desire for a savior of some sort. I used to be into these ideas. I used be into finding the Christology in superhero movies which always follow the same script of a Manichaean struggle between good and evil wherein the protagonist against all odds saves the day. It is so easy to see the Jesus story in all of this, at least on the surface. Maybe this angle of seeing superheroes reveals our aversion to who Jesus actually is and what he actually did. In large part, there’s not much ambiguity in these stories; there are good guys and bad guys. There may be some moral ambiguity at times, but nothing that would cause an existential crisis of sorts, at least not on the part of the viewers. And I think that’s why I’ve moved beyond the superhero framework. It is not that I think it is all bad rather I think it’s too easy and if there’s one thing that the gospel stories aren’t it’s easy.
I think when we view Jesus as a superhero it gets us off the hook from dealing with the deep issues of our false selves. Instead of grappling with these things we project them outwards onto Jesus, our savior and superhero. I can transfer my being a poor miserable sinner onto Jesus and not have to deal with my deeper “wounded child” issues. I can simply sacrifice the call to follow Jesus to the continual reassurance that he’s done it all for me already.
I find myself wondering if the image of an anti-hero makes more sense when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. Or maybe that needs to be taken in tandem with the superhero image. He’s such a terrible let down in so many ways. I can’t help but think of his response to the rich man who tries to ingratiate himself to him by calling him good. He’s simply dismissive of such flattery. When the moment comes to spark the revolution he couldn’t be bothered, swords were to be put down and he was to be bound. No angels were called down and neither does Jesus valiantly fight for his rights. He dies, his disciples having left him because he was such a let down to them and his moment had passed. Cursed is he who hangs on a tree, right?
It strikes me that Jesus on the cross has much more in common with the Jew who was put to death in concentration camp than with the American soldier who died in combat in World War 2. Instead of giving meaning to the world and its institutions Jesus simply strips it all away. As Brian Zahnd notes he reveals the world’s best religious system of Judaism to be, well, quite lacking. He also reveals the world’s best legal system, that of the Roman Empire to be, well, quite unjust. The end point of Jesus’ life reveals to us the apparent helplessness and meaninglessness of the ways in which we have ordered our lives as human beings. It doesn’t get us off the hook for examining such things, at least it is not supposed to, instead it serves as an invitation to do things differently.