My earliest boyhood reading came mainly from three sources.
Over my father’s objections, my mother purchased Compton’s Encyclopedia on a volume-a-month, pay-as-you-go plan. I devoured each one before the next arrived.
Somehow a 1950’s-vintage Boy Scout manual had found its way into our house. I poured over every page.
And, finally, with my allowance I purchased every comic book I could get my hands on. Storing them in an old cardboard box, I read them over and over again.
Out of desperation I would sometimes grab an Archie comic or something like it. But those stories about teenaged boys and girls seemed dumb from my preadolescent perspective. Most of my spare change went for superhero comics. Among my favorites were Batman, Spiderman, and Superman.
Bruce Wayne became Batman and Peter Parker became Spiderman when they put on their superhero outfits. The costumes hid their everyday identity.
For years I assumed that Superman followed the same storyline, but the movie director Quintin Tarantino eventually set me straight. Superman disguised himself as Clark Kent. He put on a suit and a pair of glasses that made him look like one of us.
In Tarantino’s film “Kill Bill, Vol. 2,” the character Bill explains the difference between Superman and the other superheroes to his eventual killer The Bride, or Beatrix Kiddo. Here’s what he says:
“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent…. Clark Kent is how Superman views us.”
Fans of more recent Superman comics find fault with Tarantino’s portrayal of Clark as meek and mild-mannered. After the 80’s, Clark himself was a stronger, more courageous figure. But that’s not my point here.
What caught my attention and stirred my theological imagination was this: Clark Kent is how Superman views us.
It occurred to me that, by analogy, we could say that Jesus is how God views us.
Every analogy is limited. So let’s be clear. Jesus was not a superhero. God did not merely put on a human costume. God really became a human being while remaining fully divine. And Jesus reveals God to us in a way that we can understand.
Nevertheless, we can translate what Tarantino says about Superman to serve theological purposes.
Jesus is how God views us. We can see this especially in the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion.
Peter, James, and John ascend a mountain with Jesus. Once at the top, Jesus’ face and clothing begin to gleam with an otherworldly light.
The disciples glimpse the risen and glorified Jesus, and they also see who they are becoming through him. Jesus is making them—making us—a new creation. Or, as Richard Rohr would put it, Jesus shows us the immortal diamond that we can be in union with God.
Listen to this passage from Immortal Diamond:
“The Risen Christ is the standing icon of humanity in its final and full destiny. He is the pledge and guarantee of what God will do with all of our crucifixions. At last, we can meaningfully live with hope. It is no longer an absurd or tragic universe. Our hurts now become the home for our greatest hopes.” (Immortal Diamond, Kindle loc. 1377)
On the Mount of the Transfiguration we get a glimpse of resurrection. But the way to the empty tomb always passes through the cross. And in the crucified Jesus, we see how God views us.
On the cross Jesus embraces our agony and our loneliness. In him we see our own wounded hearts, shattered bodies, and lost hopes. We see our shame and fear, our regrets and sorrows. We see all of our crucifixions both great and small.
Some might say, “This doesn’t describe me. I am successful. My hard work and smart choices have made me a winner. Sure, the world is full of losers, but I’m not one of them.”
Jesus has a reply. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
Whether we realize it or not, we all need the divine physician. Eventually a sword will pierce everyone’s heart. A CT scan may show a mass in our kidney or a tumor in our child’s brain. Our parent’s amusing forgetfulness might prove to be the first signs of dementia.
Epidemics, earthquakes, famines, and tornadoes don’t really care how hard we work or how smart we are. We can’t cure a friend’s despair or defeat a loved one’s addiction by being clever.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, the death rate remains 100%. You can’t dig your way out of the grave with shrewdness and industriousness.
As I said before, Jesus shows us how God views us. And he also reveals God to us. On the cross Jesus reveals God’s perfect compassion for us. And God’s compassion is no mere affection. It is an irresistible power.
Jesus’ compassion turns death into life. To cite Rohr again, “The Crucified One is God’s standing solidarity with the suffering, the tragedy, and the disaster of all time, and God’s promise that it will not have the final word.” (Immortal Diamond, Kindle loc. 2130)
Jesus is how God views us. He sees us as the lost brought home. As the broken made whole. As the captive set free.
Jesus finds us, mends us, and liberates us. He saves us by becoming one of us and making us one of his own.