HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 30
GOSPEL LESSON Mark 5:21-43
SERMON: “The Peter Parker Problem”
Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Thor, Iron Man . . . there has been no shortage of superheroes in the comics, in movies or on television. And there are still “underoos” so that kids can dress the part all year, not just on Halloween.
How many of you watched Superman on television when you were young(er)? George Reeves played the superhero in the television series from 1952 through 1959. I always liked Christopher Reeve in the movie versions. Books and articles have been written on Superman as a Christ-figure – sent to earth as a baby in a rocket ship shaped like a star, raised by an earthly step-father, he grew up in Smallville, a small nowheresville town, reminiscent of Nazareth where Jesus was also raised by an earthly step-father. Like Christ, Superman grows up where people have no idea of the powers he possesses or what his true identity, his true nature really is. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” The “S” on his chest might just as well stood for ‘Savior’ as for ‘Superman’ as he heard peoples’ cries for help and came to their rescue.
Spider-Man is not a Christ-figure. He’s been in the comic strips, had a television series, a video game and three big-budget movies about him in 2002, 2004 and 2007. A musical about Spider-Man opened in New York last year – reported the most expensive musical in Broadway history (I still recall news reports of production difficulties). And a new 3D feature opened last week, promising to tell us the ‘untold story.’
The Amazing Spider-Man is really high school student Peter Parker, bitten by a spider -- radioactive? Genetically engineered? Somehow spider DNA bonds with Peter DNA and the young man gains super strength, the ability to stick to walls and ceilings and to shoot webs that can both capture bad guys and support him as he swings from skyscraper to skyscraper high above New York City streets. He’s Spidey, the web-slinger, and he goes out to fight criminals and super-villains like the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. The Amazing Spider-Man – Peter Parker.
You have to just like Peter Parker. He’s a genius-level nerd, teased and harassed by the other boys at school, awkward and shy with girls, forever coming up short of the expectations of his teachers, employers and authority figures. The police are after him and accuse him of being a dangerous vigilante. I’ll admit I really like Tobey Maguire in the role, better than Andrew Garfield. I just had to go see the film to find out what that untold story was. What were they going to tell us about Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, that we don’t already know?
United Methodist Pastor Bob Kaylor suggests that Jesus has a “Peter Parker problem,” in the sense that we think we know all about him. After all, he has appeared in books, television shows and movies. Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the most memorable musicals. We’ve been reading about him and talking about him for years.
Just as we are drawn to Peter Parker, the awkward high school student, we are drawn to Jesus because he is the suffering servant. He is misunderstood by the people, hounded by the leaders of the community he is trying to help. The Jewish authorities accuse him of blasphemy and constantly question his actions from eating with tax collectors and sinners to healing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees conspire with the government authorities to destroy him. Like Peter Parker, Jesus is always being attacked for doing good.
It might be a good idea to do a re-read of the Gospel of Mark as it gives us the story of the Amazing Jesus-Man. In the first chapter Jesus went into the synagogue with his newly called disciples and began to teach. Mark says, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
The people were amazed when he commanded an impure spirit to come out of a man.
In chapter two, the people were amazed when Jesus healed a paralytic.
In chapter five, they people were amazed when Jesus commanded a legion of impure spirits to come out of a man.
In chapter six they were amazed when he walked across the water, climbed into their boat and the sea calmed right
Again and again the people are amazed at what Jesus does. But here’s the untold story of what Jesus is doing for the people of Galilee: All of his mighty acts are intended to save them. Whether they’re facing evil, illness, destruction or death, Jesus wants to come to the rescue. In fact, the Greek word for “save” (sozo) pops up again and again in the gospel of Mark, although it’s usually reduced to bland English words such as “heal,” “cure” or “get well.” What amazes the crowds is that Jesus is working to rescue them, to save them.
In today’s reading, first it is Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue who comes to Jesus begging that his daughter might be saved. While Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ house, a woman comes up to him who has been suffering with a medical problem – a hemorrhage – that’s been going on for twelve years. Jairus’ daughter is at the point of death. Jesus and all the disciples and hangers on are on a mission to save her, and this desperate woman says to herself, “if I just touch his clothes, I will be healed – Greek: SAVED.”
She reaches out, touches Jesus and immediately the bleeding stops. Part of this story is about touching, about the healing power of touch. We struggle these days because of sensitivity to inappropriate touching. We hesitate to offer a hug sometimes when it is so needed, when it would be warmly welcomed. Still there are times when we need to pay attention to “do not touch” signs. Despite such “Do Not Touch” signs, a museum was having no success in keeping patrons from touching and soiling priceless furniture and art. The problem evaporated overnight when a clever museum employee replaced the signs with ones that read: “Caution: Wash Hands After Touching!”
A touch from Jesus is a welcome, healing touch. This woman is healed of her disease and rescued from a miserable life of pain and social isolation when she reaches out to touch Jesus’ clothing. She is saved by the Amazing Jesus-Man. Jesus realizes immediately (in Mark everything happens immediately) that power has gone forth from him and he asks who touched him. His disciples think it’s a crazy question. There are so many people around him, the crowd is jostling him, people are pressing him on every side. But Jesus wants to connect with the person he knows touched him and looks until the woman finally speaks up and confesses what she has done.
One might think he would chastise her for ‘stealing a healing,’ but instead he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Back to the Greek again. Your faith has saved you.
When Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you,” he is telling her, and Mark is telling us, it is her willingness to trust Jesus that permits God’s healing power to flow into her. His touch, his clothes, God’s power are always there. It’s the willingness to trust that completes the healing,
The story returns to Jairus and his daughter’s death. While all this other action has been going on his neighbors come up to tell Jairus his daughter has died and there is no point in bothering Jesus any more. What does Jesus say to him? ––– “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.”
When they arrive at the house, professional mourners are already there weeping and wailing. But Jesus kicks them out, goes in to the child, takes the girl by the hand and says to her, “Little girl, get up!” And Mark tells us that immediately (!!) the girl gets up and begins to walk around. Jesus has saved her not only from illness, but from death itself. And those who witnessed it – do you get their reaction? They are ‘astonished.’ (another word for ‘amazed.’)
I’ve enjoyed watching the Spider-Man movies. It’s (amazing!) to watch him swing from building to building – whole city blocks and more at a time. But as fun and entertaining as that is, Spidey has nothing on Jesus. His is the stuff of comic book fiction.
Jesus is the one with the power to heal and save us. It should not be an untold story. Jesus rescues us from sin through the gift of forgiveness. He saves us from illness by touching us with healing in our bodies, minds and spirits. He breaks our social isolation by giving us a place in his community of faith. And he rescues us from death through his promise of eternal life with God.