A few months ago, the entertainment world was in tizzy with the news that the beloved Spider-man was leaving the MCU due to a dispute between Marvel Comics and Sony. For those like me who aren’t that familiar with the comic-book inspired movie genre, MCU stands for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an American media franchise and shared universe centered on a series of superhero films, independently produced by Marvel Studios and based on characters that appear in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.
Back in August, it was announced that the Spider-man franchise would be disappearing from the big screen because of a dispute between Sony Pictures and Disney, the parent company of Marvel. Fortunately for fans of spidey, it seems as if a deal has been struck and a third rendition of Spider-man is back in the works, set for 2021.
Frankly, I was fine if the current Spider-man left the big screen. For me, even though I’m not a big comic book fan, the only real Spider-man is the Tobey Maguire version of the character from the first three films in the early 2000’s.
I don’t know if it was my secret crush in MJ (Kirsten Dunst), my admiration of the super-cool and confident Harry Osborn, or the storybook romance of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. One thing for sure, in my mind, the only Spider-man movies that truly exist in my mind is the trilogy from the 2000’s—and I’m still upset that we didn’t get a fourth movie made to see Peter marry MJ.
If you can remember back to that first movie, Spider-man (2002), Peter Parker enters an underground fighting tournament hoping to earn enough money to purchase a car and impress MJ. After winning the fight, Peter expects to get $3,000 in prize money, but is disappointed when the fight promoter only gives him $100.
If you can picture in your mind their encounter in that grimy, run-down office. Peter, upset about the small amount, complains to the promoter:
“I need that money.”
The promoter, in response replies;
“I missed the part where that’s my problem.”
Peter sulks out of the office and in the next instant, an armed robber storms in, demanding all the money from the event.
The next thing we see is Peter standing at the end of the hall, waiting for the elevator. The robber then storms out of the office, sprinting down the hall to the elevator.
Despite having just easily vanquished a fierce, muscle-bound fighter, Peter simply steps aside and allows the robber to escape.
Immediately thereafter, the promoter comes running down the hall and confronts Peter lamenting;
“You could have taken that guy apart, now he’s gonna get away with my money.”
To which Peter responds;
“I missed the part where that’s my problem.”
If only Twitter had been around back then! Would have been an epic burn!
But, unfortunately, we know what happens next in the story.
Peter walks out on the street and sees a crowd gathered. Concerned by the commotion, Peter squeezes through the people and to his horror, sees his beloved Uncle Ben lying on the ground, shot by a carjacker—the very same man he had simply let run by him seconds earlier in the hallway.
Surely, as he kneeled over his dying uncle, with tears streaming down his face, in shock and horror about what was unfolding before him, those prophetic words spoken just prior by Uncle Ben ran through his mind:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Wow. I’m getting chills just thinking about it!
No matter how we feel about Spider-man, about Tobey Maguire or Kirsten Dunst, whether you’re a fan of the new movies or this trilogy, surely we can all relate to the sentiment expressed by the fight promoter—and then again by Peter;
“I missed the part where that’s my problem.”
See, in our time today, there’s just so much trouble, so many problems. They come at us one after another, inundating with endless streams of pain, suffering, and injustice.
There’s the news of the African-American woman Atatiana Jefferson, tragically killed in her own home by a Ft. Worth police officer.
There’s the continued drumbeat of the impending doom of climate change.
Not to mention all the drama and intrigue swirling right now in our nation’s capital.
It’s a lot.
So, it can be easy for us, especially as Christians, as followers of Jesus who believe in God, to simply throw up our hands, whether in exasperation or veneration, and just ask God to fix everything for us.
And, while this act may seem at times like an act of desperation, in many ways, that’s what many religious leaders suggest we do—just leave it up to God.
I remember, in my 20’s, I’d always find myself deep in contentious conversation with some of my friends. While part of it was me just being a twenty-something wanting to be different—while at the same time trying to figure out who I was—also a very real part of it was me just being exasperated at the seemingly complete lack of concern and engagement by some in regards to the tragedies happening in our world at the time.
I turned 18 in the year 2000.
Think about what I’d seen so early on in my young-adulthood.
In September of 2001 was 9/11.
In 2004 was the Indian Ocean Tsunami leaving over 230,000 dead.
In 2005 was Hurricane Katrina which killed 1,800 and left thousands more homeless.
2007 was the Virginia Tech shooting.
2008-2009 was the despair of the Great Recession,
and 2010 saw a Haiti earthquake killing some 300,000 people along with the BP gulf oil spill.
There was, in my early adulthood, a lot of pain and tragedy in our world. And, I remember, when talking to some of my friends about what our response as Christians should be, their attitude was basically something similar to that of Peter Parker’s; “I missed the part where that’s my problem.”
And sure, that’s a bit of a blunt re-telling of the story. But, it’s basically accurate.
See, they were of the opinion that God was in control of anything and everything. If God wanted something fixed, God would fix it. We can’t really do anything.
As much as I disagreed with their assertion—I couldn’t quite find the words to debate it. I too had been taught basically that very same thing.
Only now, as I saw seemingly endless tragedy and suffering unfold around me, I found myself unsatisfied by the simplistic answer that there was basically nothing we could do and it wasn’t our problem.
Is there another way?
Last week, Nellis started off our new series, “Jesus 2020,” in which we’re looking at the ways we as Christians are to live as followers of Jesus beyond the walls of the church.
Perhaps, when you were listening to her talk about God’s call to work for social justice, you yourself were wondering, “wait a minute, I thought this was all on God? Isn’t God supposed to fix everything? I missed the part where that’s my problem?”
Well, the Bible has something to say about that.
Last week, Nellis spoke about Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who spoke out again and again for justice and fairness in his time. This week, we’re looking at similar figure named Jeremiah.
For those familiar with the Old Testament, what our Jewish friends call the Hebrew Bible, the book of Jeremiah, named after this same person, falls just after the book of Isaiah.
Jeremiah was a prophet who lived some 600 years before the birth of Jesus, in the same country as Jesus, the only difference being that Jeremiah had seen his country function as an independent nation, rather than under the rule of the conquering foreign power Rome.
In Jeremiah’s day, it was the ancient super-power Babylon that was running rough-shod over the surrounding nations, conquering everyone in its path. Though Jeremiah’s country had avoided defeat for a while thanks to some political wheeling and dealing, soon enough they found themselves at the point of Babylon’s spear, with their capital city Jerusalem surrounded and ultimately conquered, and worse, many of the survivors taken by force to live back in Babylon.
“The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 587 caused starvation and death for many, destroyed national and family life, and shook the theological and political foundations of people’s identity. Survivors lost loved ones, land, and livelihood; many were deported. Beyond physical and emotional devastation, there was also symbolic wreckage. The destruction of the palace and the temple meant the collapse of political, ideological, and theological symbols that had long provided identity and stability for the nation.”
For a modern-day comparison, what comes to mind most is the tragedy of 9/11, when the economic, military, and political symbols of our nation were attacked in the form of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and though not ultimately struck—the Capital Building.
For Jeremiah and his fellow citizens, this was a devastating time—and for those taken by force to live in Babylon—it almost destroyed them.
Psalm 137, is actually a poem written by survivors lamenting their time in Babylon (Read Psalm 137:1-3).
We can practically feel their pain and anguish seep through those written words.
It’s no wonder, when certain religious leaders began to predict that the trauma would be over soon and they’d be back to the homeland in no time, that many of the people clung to these words.
(Read Jeremiah 28:1-10)
Basically, Jeremiah is saying, what these people are saying isn’t true, it isn’t going to happen, there isn’t going to be a quick fix by God.
Jeremiah then writes a letter to the people in Babylon telling them to buckle down and prepare for the long haul. He writes:
I want to read again those words from verse 7.
“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”
See, here the thing. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Old Testament prophets weren’t fortune-tellers per se, instead they often functioned more as interpreters or meaning-makers, telling the people why bad things were happening.
In short, Jeremiah wanted the people to take responsibility for their actions. He wanted them to change their behavior, he wanted them to repent.
He wanted them to understand that their future was just as much in their own hands as it was in God’s.
Notice just a few verses down, a scripture perhaps many of us have heard, Jeremiah 29:11:
“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”
As much as we understand the verse today as talking about God having a perfect plan laid out for us, and we need to simply sit back and ride along, looking at the verse in context, I think the intended message is quite different.
I think instead, God is saying, “I want the best things for you, I want you to succeed—but you have to do your part!”
Even today, in the 21st century, some 2,500 years later, we have voices and leaders and leaders telling us, “everything is going to be fine, we don’t need to do anything, God is going to fix everything, we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
But I believe that words that prophet Jeremiah spoke to his people some 2,500 years ago still ring true today.
“Promote the welfare of your city. Pray for it. Because your future depends on its future.”
Last week, Nellis talked about two Hebrew words meaning “social justice.”
This week, I want us to understand that when we read the word “welfare,” in the original Hebrew language in which it was written, the word is “Shalom,” which means “wholeness or completeness, perfection,” with that significance ranging from the political domain to the social domain.
God’s dream for the people long ago, God’s plan for us even today, is for peace, for completeness, for wholeness in every area of our lives and our society.
But it’s not something God’s just going to hand over to us. We’ve got to do our part. Our future depends on it.
So, the choice is really up to us.
We can be like Peter Parker or Spider-man.
We can stand aside, move out of the way, say to ourselves when we see tragedy, oppression, and injustice “I missed the part where that’s my problem,” moving to the back of our minds the consequences of our consequences.
We can use the power, the resources, the opportunities we have within us and before us, to bring welfare, peace, shalom.
And, like Uncle Ben said, those of us who are in positions of privilege, whether because of our skin color, our sexuality, our income—we need to remember that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Despite the shallow promises of others, despite the assurances that everything will work out in the end with nothing being required of us, we will only find peace and shalom for ourselves when we help find peace and shalom for our community, for our country, for our world.
Do you want peace for yourself, for your family, for your community?
It starts with you, and it starts with me, so let’s get to work.
That’s God’s plan for us—That’s God’s dream for us.
“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”
May it be so.