Jesus - the Hero - what a topic! I’m not sure if I’ve been handed the pearl of great price, or drawn the short straw…
At our Easter breakfast on Sunday I was telling people at our table what I’d been preparing for, and someone said ‘What an odd title - I’ve never thought of Jesus as a ‘hero’ - and I began to realise why I was finding this so challenging, because - to be honest - neither have I… I guess that might be something to do with the image the word conjures up in my brain…
We had to study heroes of ancient mythology at school - but warriors weren’t my ‘thing’ - I never quite saw the point of Batman, Superman or Wonder-woman either - they all seemed to be either fighters or fantasy figures.
And the real people we studied, often held up to us as heroes of history or politics, often turned out to be very flawed human beings.
As in many things, it all depends on what we mean by the words we use.
I realised, that for me ’hero’ seemed to have something to do with power and might, and an idealised view of human achievements that didn’t always stand up to close scrutiny, so I thought I’d better look it up:
My dictionary says ‘Hero’…
A person revered and idealised; of distinguished bravery; the one whose career is the thread of the story - in history, or a work of fiction.
Originally - someone of super-human powers’.
During Lent, looking at the temptations of Jesus, I read a comment on the second temptation, by James Dunn - a Methodist Prof. of New Testament theology - who pointed out that when Jesus was presented with the possibility of throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple - so that angels would rescue him - it was the temptation to become a Super-hero, with all the adulation that would follow. And he rejected it, knowing that fame and power gained by making a display of self is shallow and unworthy of the God he had come to show us.
As former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, said ‘Power is the great aphrodisiac, but gaining power almost always involves compromise’.
Maybe that’s where some of my unease about the word ‘hero’ comes from?
But, I know you’ve been looking at the theme of heroes for a while now so, to help me, and for a bit of revision for you, I’d like you to talk to each other around your tables…
about who your heroes are, and why…
And what makes someone a hero for you - what qualities do you look for?
(Group discussion - 5 mins. Feedback - one ‘quality’ from each table)
It seems that heroes are usually people we look up to, people we ‘magnify’ - regard as greater than ourselves.
They come in all shapes and sizes, ‘real’ and ‘invented.’
So lets hold on to those thoughts as we listen to this song - join in if you wish.
Music: CD WOW 4 tr. 10 Majesty
So ‘Exalt, lift up on high the name of Jesus, magnify, come glorify, Christ Jesus the King.’
If you have contact with children and young people and their culture, or you keep up with the latest films, computer games, music or sport, you’ll know there’s a huge assortment of those who get ‘hero worshipped’.
Some of them are undoubtedly the best in their sphere - because of their personal qualities, their courageous acts or their special achievements, They’re people we might regard as a role model or an ideal to aim for - though perhaps we sometimes need reminding that being a ‘celebrity’ isn’t the same as being a hero.
Examine some of the heroes in fictional situations, in books, films, and on-screen games (for both children and adults) and we realise that many of them are based on the theme of good versus evil - sometimes in a pretty simplistic way, but often challenging us to ask questions about motives and methods.
I found an interesting article about the kind of characteristics that draw children to think of people as heroes, and how those same characteristics can be found in Jesus.
A couple of examples it gave might point to ways of approaching the subject, that relate to all ages…
It talked about… how children look up to The Professional Hero - to people who are experts in their field - they look at professional athletes, celebrities, the Bill Gates of this world, and see in them a goal to aim for and a hope for the future.
According to the customs of his time its almost certain that Jesus would learn his father’s trade as a carpenter, and from all that we know of him, I’m sure he would be an expert carpenter…
but much more than that, he showed an intimate and expert knowledge of God, and God’s power and love… people recognised that he knew what he was talking about - as a teacher he clearly attracted and held people’s attention, what he shared was so relevant to their situations, he performed miracles that changed lives, and helped ordinary people do extraordinary things.
In films and books and games, some characters are seen as heroes because they’re Problem Solvers.
People - not just children - look up to those who can find a way through a difficult situation, discover a cure for diseases, inspire others to create a better future.
Jesus was a problem solver - he came to the rescue when the wine ran out at the wedding… as a sign of the new life he was bringing into the world, he fed the hungry in body, mind and spirit, he calmed the fearful, and uplifted the weak and the undervalued as he showed the way to the future God intended.
Clearly, there’s more than one definition of a hero, and this next one fits some of the most heroic people who are rarely in the public eye…
‘A person with concern for people in need, or a concern to defend a moral cause, knowing there is a personal risk, willingly accepting that, and acting without expectation of reward.’ That makes me think of fire-fighters, mountain rescue people, lifeboat crews; those who find themselves imprisoned for standing against injustice done to others; or persecuted for speaking out for truth.
Its been said that… ‘it doesn’t take a hero to order people into battle - it takes a hero to be one of those who goes into battle’… In other words, one who gets involved.
Asked ‘Why is Jesus is your hero’, somebody quoted this passage from Isaiah 42, v. 1 - 9.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
‘I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.'”
That picture - of the gentleness and tenderness that will not break the bruised, or quench those whose light is burning low, who takes us by the hand and leads us to wholeness - is very different from the hero image of power and might, of ‘Superman’ swooping down, magically zapping whatever the threat is, instantly solving the problem and putting everything to rights…
Looked at like that I’m coming round to the idea…
Time for more music:
CD Crucifixion tr.9 God so loved the world
I love the opening passage of John’s Gospel. Its very clearly intended to link with the opening words of the book of Genesis -
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…’. ‘God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness’.’
And John begins his Gospel… ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’.
Scripture affirms that Jesus has been involved in God’s plan for all creation, since before the beginning of the dimension we call ‘time’…
Bishop Tom Wright describes how Roman emperors erected statues of themselves and their families throughout the provinces of the Roman empire. Their purpose was to remind people who their rulers were, who they owed their allegiance to - and who, if they rebelled would come and sort them out!
So, when John says ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ he’s tapping into the people’s understanding and experience - telling them that Jesus is the living image of the God they claim to serve, the one who, over all else, is their true Lord and King. Lord and King of a nation and a world that had gone so sadly astray from God’s intentions and plan.
‘But’ says Tom Wright, ‘when the living, loving God comes in person to live among us rebels, in the world he made and still loves, the appropriate form to take is not the super hero, sweeping through the rebel state, defeating their rebellion in a blaze of glory. The appropriate form for him to take is the form Jesus takes on the cross. This, John tells us, is the true reflection of God.
This is what it means, that Jesus, the eternal Word, took our flesh. Look at this man and see your living, loving, bruised and bleeding God’ - see the true hero.
So if we’re going to use the word ‘hero’ about Jesus, what words are we going to use to back it up, thinking of all we know and have read?
On your tables there are some printed sheets of ideas and characteristics that heroes might display, to help you fill in the sheet with JESUS OUR HERO printed down the side. Can you find a word for each of those letters, that for you describes why Jesus is a hero?
(Table Activity - music - CD You raise me up. CD1 Tr. 1)When we really look closely at the life and teaching of Jesus there are so many examples that we can relate (in principle if not in minute time-bound detail) to what is happening in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the life of the world.
And in it all Jesus is someone we can look to, and look up to as our role model and guide, in so many ways, through his message of love, generosity, gentleness and forgiveness; as we declare that Jesus is Lord - our hero.