I’ve always wanted to be a hero. It’s no secret. And with the recent rush for superhero movies, my fetish will have plenty to fuel up on. I’ve wasted many hours daydreaming of saving the proverbial day—whether it’s something as simple as warding off would-be thieves at the 7-11 or even saving a small country in a Mission Impossible–ish victory against the odds. Yeah, I’ve had that dream, too. Every guy wants to be the hero, the one that pulls off the unbelievable stunts, rescues humanity from destruction and chances his life for the greater good—and, of course, gets the girl in the end.
In real life though, I’m not sure what I’d do if I was called to risk my life, but in a strange way I think being a hero is probably easier than real life. Let me explain.
Recently, I was reading through the Gospel of John, the part where Jesus gives the disciples the “New Commandment” to love one another and then tells them that he is soon leaving to a place they can’t follow. Peter, with an overzealous response tells Jesus that he would lay down his life for him, so why can’t he follow? And, of course, Jesus is overwhelmed with Peter’s noble gesture of sacrifice … okay, not quite. To say Jesus threw a wet blanket on Peter’s superhero-moment would be a vast understatement. Not only did Jesus ignore the machismo of Peter’s allegiance, he dropped the prophetic bomb and told Peter that soon he would deny Jesus three times. Ouch.
I think this exchange is a classic example of our penchant for the melodramatic, I guess you could call it a hero-complex. Like Peter, we all want to be the spiritual superhero; but sometimes in our all-or-nothing drive to sacrifice, we miss what Jesus is really calling us to do.
Jesus just finished telling his disciples what he required of them—what would mark them out for the world to see. He simply asked them to …
“Love one another.”
It seems so anticlimactic doesn’t it? Jesus is about to leave his disciples, with no hint of a revolution, aside from the words "love each other." That’s it Jesus—that’s what your leaving us with? On the surface it seems too simple, too ordinary, but these words are the identity-maker for those who follow Christ. These words are tough. No, more than tough. These words are dangerous. I think that’s why it’s easier to "Peter-out" and exchange bold words of sacrifice for an uprising-like obedience.
As Christians, when we start talking about simple obedience, there’s a triggered-mechanism within us that pleads for the dramatic over the daily and begs for short-term heroics over the long-and-steady obedience that comes with taking the commands of Jesus seriously. I think it happens whenever we cry out, "I’d die for you," or, "I’ll burn my CD’s for you," or maybe something like, "I’ll move to Antarctica and freeze to death for you, Jesus." When really, all God wants is for us to take him seriously where we’re at and make his way a pattern of life.
But patterns are hard. Sometimes dying is easier.
In a way, this is what Peter learned. It’s the anti-hero gospel. We’re not called to physically die as soon as we begin following Christ—we’re called to live—in an incredibly new way. Peter was full of flaws, and like us, he had characteristics of the villain at times, a la—“Get behind me Satan,” but in the end, he had enough characteristics of the hero to make us sympathetic to his plight. And, yes, Peter does end up dying for the cause. But Peter’s heroic moment wasn’t so much his martyrdom as it was his life. In the end, I think Peter must have learned that it’s much harder to live for Christ than it is to die for him.
Instead of a one-time heroic super-moment, most of us are called to the daily life of being Christ to others in an under-the-radar fashion that bespeaks the humility and courage of the one we follow … the one that called us to love one another. It may not include changing clothes in a phone booth or hanging upside down from a fire escape to save the day, but following Christ is the most daring thing we can do to change the world.
*By the way, Superman Returns opens in theaters June 30th if you need your superhero fix.