(Mark 7:31-37 ESV)
I find increasingly that when I read certain parts of the Gospels I have to shake myself to get images of George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Tom Welling out of my head. And it doesn’t help that I’m 55 and live in the cultural frozen wasteland that is Southern New Hampshire. Having run out of new releases to watch while our fireplace consumes cord after cord of wood, I finally sunk to a new low and pulled out Superman: The Movie (1978).
There is a really interesting piece of backstory to the Superman franchise. It is something Superman’s father says to him (via holographic image in the ’78 movie). “It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history.” Any question of identification I might have between Superman and Jesus goes out the window with that one. Jesus is the great interferer with human history. As Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” When Jesus was born in Bethlehem he interfered with human history in a big way. I don’t think I need to document this any further.
Beyond that, remember that Superman never spoke to crowds (other than perhaps at a supermarket opening, but that was really George Reeves playing Superman); Superman had no disciples; Superman never healed anyone that I know of (though he did use his X-ray vision to guide a doctor or two, if I recall correctly).
So why the comparison? Probably because it is a whole lot easier for us to conceive of a man who has great powers “beyond those of mortal men,” because of genetic mutation (X-Men), cruel accident, or simply because they came from another planet than it is for us to conceive of God Incarnate. The only really fair comparison between Superman and Jesus is the sinless nature of both. Superman is such a good man that we cannot imagine him making a mistake or having his judgment clouded by lust, greed, or some other defect. Well… Mario Puzo’s version of Superman demonstrates the slightest dark side. And I know I’ll get dozens of notes of correction from people devoted to Superman comics. But the classic 50’s TV Superman is a reversal on Roman and Greek mythology. The gods were gods tempted and often succumbing to human sin. Superman is a man tempted to be so good that we assign god-like attributes to him.
But neither is Jesus, at least not Jesus unmuddled by all the comic book pictorials we have confused him with. That’s the problem. We wanted Superman, who flies in from nowhere and saves the day. What we got was the Second person of the Trinity who does not heal because he is a doctor. He heals because he has life in himself. We wanted someone who changes the course of mighty rivers and bends steel in his bear hands. What we got was someone who changes hearts and bends boundaries. We wanted someone who could see through walls. We got someone who can see into lives. We wanted someone who could fly. We got someone who can raise the dead.
Yes, I read stories like the healing of the deaf and dumb man (in Mark 7), and the skeptic in me looks at Superman and says there’s about as much chance that Jesus actually healed the man the way the account has it, as there is that Superman could catch bullets in his teeth. God forgive me for such a lack of trust. You see, Superman has never showed up when I was in dire straits. But Jesus has. And my every interaction with him convinces me that he is able to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and that he has brought life to my body and soul also.