Tuesday, June 10, 2014

That the World Might be Saved

Two weeks ago, I took my five-year old nephew Quinn to see the new X-Men movie. Truth be told, I had no idea (1) if he'd like the movie or (2) if he'd be able to sit through it. Fortunately, there were enough action sequences to captivate his attention and he did manage to make it through the whole film. 

The film opens with a bleak depiction of the future: Sentinel robots have effectively destroyed the planet. Once-beautiful and flourishing cities have been ravaged and there remains but a glimmer of hope that, through the use of their mutant powers, the surviving X-Men work together to correct history. 

The X-Men narrative, like many superhero arcs, raises the question of a savior. Who is going to sweep in and rescue us from our woe? Who is it who has the power to stand up to the forces of evil, to resist the darkness, and lead us into the light? Superman. Batman. Wolverine. Wonder Woman. Spiderman. In each telling of the superhero's story, there emerges a figure willing to face tremendous opposition and difficulty to restore order to human lives. 

Our workaday world often seems so much less intriguing than those where superhuman individuals have special powers or abilities. Yet hardly any of us would deny that very often we feel the need of some sort of savior. A cancer diagnosis, the loss of a job, a loved one's mental illness...these all introduce into one's life a terrible swirl of chaos. The ecological crisis, the ongoing need for financial reform, crises of authority, and the plight of the poor and dispossessed elicit from the human family a common cry: is there no one who can save us...from ourselves? 

This Sunday, the (blessedly) short Gospel expresses the central claim of Christianity. It also happens to be the scriptural verse I associate most with going to sporting events. In John 3:16 we read, 
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. 
Jesus is, so to speak, God's rescue mission of our world.

The cynic and skeptic might reply, "Well, a fat lot of good this has done for us! Look at the Cleveland Browns (sports fans) or the violence of society to see that this Jesus fellow has pretty well failed this task."

In superhero movies, we typically have some sort of definitive battle wherein the hero musters a comeback and defeats the villain. In the Gospel, the great comeback is Jesus' resurrection where he defeats no single human villain but triumphs over death itself. It's not that he eliminates death so that we become immortals, but his resurrection allows us to live in the hopeful confidence that darkness of death is not the final answer to human life. Life, not death, is the horizon of our lives.

When believers speak of Jesus "saving" the world we are not talking about his putting a spell on it. Nor are we talking about a superman-esque feat wherein he yanks it from a collision course with an asteroid. More subtly, and infinitely more profoundly, he has given us more than a second-chance to get things right. Jesus' Resurrection gives us a new life, a new way of being, based on sharing within the life and destiny he offers us.

If you think on it, villains in comic book movies are often bent on world domination. They want to control, to rule, to possess all things. They want to remake all of creation in their own images, to be the arbiters of life and death. Jesus, but contrast, promises us nothing less than everything. He offers us life, a way of being fully human, based not on what we own but on the one who loves us. Jesus doesn't create a rebel alliance. He creates a family.

Jesus came that the world might be saved, that it might be rescued from our insatiable appetites for more and more and more. Instead of becoming one more commodity in our economy, Jesus gives us an entirely new economic order in which me might live.

As the Church emerges from its annual celebration of Pentecost, it may be well for us to consider how we are called to be a part of Jesus' rescue mission. Having found in this Jesus a hope that gives us the courage to face death, how are we made able to embrace our lives in a way that reflect God's generosity? How does our shared life in the Spirit gather us into one family?

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