Black Panther and getting real
Deny Yourself, take up your cross and follow me
The easy way out is rarely the right answer. This week I went to the cinema to watch the new Marvel Film – Black Panther. Before it was released it was a significant film for the now vast Marvel film franchise (this being the 14th film in 8 or 9 years since they began) yet this is the first black superhero film they have produced. And it has been massively successful, In it’s first week it was something like the fifth highest grossing film of all time. In the film, alongside the superhero battles and the fantastical comic book style technology, the heroes of the film are trying to deal with the question of should and if so how a technologically advanced African country should respond to the poverty and structures of inequality in the world. I don’t want to give away the plot of the film for those who want to go and see it, but lets just say that they recognise in struggling with this question that shortcuts are not the solution.
The cinema is a nice way of escaping some of the deeply saddening stories that seems to be filing the news at the moment. The scandals that have arisen in recent weeks about the behaviour of Oxfam aid workers and of those is positions of authority at UNICEF and Save the Children, and others. Loosing the confidence of those who generously give their money and time to these organisations will lead to a significant loss for those who rely on the good work that Oxfam has done. Society understandably scrutinises where that aid and investment is going. But we also struggle to understand that good people can (and will) fail to live up to their goodness. Much like people who do really awful things are capable of doing good in some situations. People are too complicated to simply be categorised as good or bad. We all have the created potential to be good, and the worldly potential to do bad.
In Today’s Gospel Jesus is preparing the disciples for his eventual death and resurrection. One of the things our faith demands of us is that we get real. Jesus knew that his disciples needed to get real. He couldn’t carry on as he was, they couldn’t stick to their convictions,
and expect anything other than that Jesus would die a horrible and painful death. Jesus was too great a challenge to worldly powers,
a threat to religious authorities. But Peter wants to find another way. Perhaps we all do when we get into a sticky situation. Couldn’t we just go hide away, perhaps we could tone down the message, make it more palatable. Fundamentally Peter can’t imagine a messiah who would suffer and die – it looks too much like failure, but instead it is a different kind of victory. Jesus rebukes him harshly. I remember working in procurement for a few months and one of the jobs I had to do was go to a daily meeting where each of the people on the same team as me would be rebuked for our suppliers failure to deliver certain parts on time to an assembly line. They were a painful daily ritual.
Jesus rebukes him: ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Essentially satan is the name of the one who is tempting Christ – as in our reading last week about Jesus in the dessert. Peter is tempting Jesus with an easy way out. But Jesus knows, however tempting that might be, it is not an option he has in front of him. Instead Jesus tells us that if we wish to follow him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross first.
As a child I remember this image of taking the road less travelled. That being Christian meant we need to take the more difficult route through life. In the church there are many who look to examples where the church is being ‘counter-cultural’ as evidence that the church is doing the right thing. I would argue this is dangerous. Sometimes a road is less travelled simply because it doesn’t lead you where you are trying to go. Sometimes God is working in the world around us, because the church has been too slow to see where God is leading. Some have used this kind of flawed argument to justify the church’s historical failure to ordain women. Some have used this counter cultural justification to support the church’s inability to fully welcome our LGBT+ brothers and sisters into the church. What Jesus is calling on us to do as his disciples is put to the side our own personal wants and greed, and look to God’s desires for us and the world around us. Christ wants us to be honest with ourselves about the burden that following him can bring with it. The challenge of putting Christ first. The cost to us personally of putting others before ourselves. Jesus wants his disciples to own those sacrifices we have to make, accept them like he accepts the cross he carries up the hill to Calvary.
It would be great if we could snap our fingers and end poverty. But real change doesn’t happen like that. It would be great if we could make a difference to the world without sacrificing anything ourselves. But life isn’t like that. Christ calls on us to give of ourselves to change the world. To put others first, to put our love of God first, and in doing so we will receive more than we can ask or imagine.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams