Jesus the superhero?

Hollywood doesn’t always do so well with superhero movies.

At the very least you’d have to admit that they don’t always nail the transformation from comic book page to screen.

Think Daredevil with Ben Affleck. Or the Incredible Hulk (either recent version — the fact that last year’s one was totally controlled by Marvell notwithstanding). Or … to plumb the disastrous depths, Spawn.

But two real crackers from last year Hancock and The Dark Knight buck the trend.

There are all sorts of reasons for their success — e.g., massive budgets and stellar acting talent (Will Smith and Jason Bateman in Hancock, the show-stealing Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight).

But what I find particularly intriguing is the way both films make the nature of heroism their explicit theme.

Hancock does this by casting Will Smith as a dud superhero.

He’s got the power. But he’s out of touch, misanthropic, self-destructive. He fails — spectacularly — to represent the people he’s supposed to be saving, especially when he’s trying to do the right thing.

Things are murkier still in The Dark Knight.

I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it (although I would want to ask, ‘Why the heck haven’t you?’). But the movie concludes by suggesting that Batman is the hero the city needs– he can go places and do things that they can’t do — even though he’s not the one they want — he, like Hancock, is in danger of disconnecting from the people he’s fighting for.

All of which underlines the power of Oliver O’Donovan’s incisive discussion of the representative role of Jesus (in his too-much neglected book, The Desire of the Nations — p 125):

It can be expressed in two complementary and mutually necessary statements: (a) The representative alone constitutes the presence of the represented; (b) The represented are really present in what the representative does and experiences on their behalf. The two sides of the idea must be kept in balance if it is not to collapse into meaninglessness. If the first is taken on its own, representation is a kind of fiction; the represented are not really present, but we pretend they are. If the second is taken on its own, representation is diminished into paradigm; the representative does and experiences nothing more than the represented do and experience…

As our representative, Jesus — like Hancock and Batman — does what we can’t do. He contributes something that we can’t.

Yet Jesus — unlike our two heroes — does this as one of us. Without losing his connection with us, in all our messy humanness.

Not that he’s one of us in the sense of being a supremely average human being.

But that his radical identification with us — getting to the heart of our plight by taking it, fully, upon himself — climaxing in his death for us, in our place, means that ‘we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb 4.15).

Jesus is our hero not because he couldn’t sin (if that was the case, he’d be unlike us at the deepest level), but because he didn’t. Thus, ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5.VERSE).

It’s as our representative that Christ is our substitute.

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