WARNING: Marvel Cinematic Universe spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched the Marvel movies that came before Captain Marvel, you may want to come back later!
I am REALLY looking forward to April 26th. Avengers: End Game comes out in theaters, and we finally get to find out what happens to our favorite superheroes after the disastrous and devastating Infinity War ending. Since watching Infinity War, I’ve gone back and made sure I was all caught up with the movies. I’ve started reading my son some Spiderman comics, and we’ve been watching a younger kids’ series, Marvel Super Hero Adventures, on the DisneyNow app. (My son especially relates to Hulk, what with the hard-to-manage urge to smash everything.) At the end of Infinity War, we are left with a much different ending than we are used to. We’re used to a clean wrap-up: the bad guy defeated, and our heroes off to find the next mission. But this one, man. Half of our heroes disappeared into dust. Spiderman left by saying, “I don’t feel so good...I don’t want to go…” I mean, some fans cried at the end of the movie. There’s not typically a whole lot of crying involved in watching action films. But when our heroes don’t prevail, we’re shocked. And we’ve been getting more and more attached to this portrayal of these comic book heroes since Iron Man came out in 2008.
So why do we love superheroes so much? Why do we get so attached?
There’s something exciting about watching a person who can do things like fight giant enemies, fly out of our atmosphere, outsmart their enemies, blast lightning from their eyes and limbs, survive after severe injuries, etc. We love their powers, and we love knowing that most of the time, they will prevail. It’s always fun backing an obvious winner. One thing we can relate to a little easier is their ethics and logic. Most of the “good guys” fight fair. We respect and trust them because they seem to have a moral code they live by. There seems to always be that classic trope towards the end of a film where the good guy finally has the bad guy trapped, and they have a chance to kill them (usually right after the bad guy just finished trying everything in his/her power to kill the good guy). The audience is internally screaming, “Kill them while you can or they will kill you!” And many times they let the bad guy go, either because they simply can’t bring themselves as low as their enemy, or because they have this idea that the person has learned their lesson and changed. Sometimes the person has changed, but we can usually count on the bad guy trying one last attempt at killing our hero. We know this, so we are baffled at the attempt at moral goodness from our hero.
The popular UK show, Doctor Who, fully embraces this “spare the bad guy” concept. The Doctor, the hero in the show, doesn’t really have super powers in the conventional way we think of them. He (currently she) has a time machine and the ability to regenerate into new bodies after death (thus how the current version can be female after a long line of male actors), but what we are really drawn to is the Doctor’s goodness and intellect. The Doctor doesn’t use weapons. He uses his smarts and many times, his words to subdue his enemy. He seeks first to understand his enemy’s motives instead of just destroying them. He would much rather reason with the bad guy instead of hurt them. It means more risk, but his companions love him for it. They follow him, risking their lives, knowing that he is morally and ethically good, saving lives one planet at a time.
In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man worthy of being a villain in a Doctor Who episode or a Marvel movie. He has super strength, lives in burial caves, and scares/taunts people for a living. When Jesus encounters him, the demons in the man immediately recognize him as the Son of God. They beg for him to be merciful to them. As readers, we think, “Um no, you are... ahem, demons. He can’t just go easy on you.” But Jesus doesn’t start yelling. He wasn’t impressed, and he wasn’t scared. He doesn’t hold a fighting stance, grab his shield, wield his sword, or power up his super suit. He doesn’t crack his knuckles and neck and jump in place, ready to fight. He simply says, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit... What is your name?” The demons replied that they are called Legion, because there are many of them inside the man. They then begged Jesus again for mercy, specifically this time asking to be sent into pigs in a nearby field. Again, we readers think, “There’s no way, they are evil. Get rid of them before they destroy someone else!” But Jesus gave them permission to enter the pigs.
Why did Jesus allow this? Why was he gracious towards such terrible beings? It is not clear in this account, but knowing what we know about Jesus, we can safely speculate a bit. The telling of this encounter allows us to understand that the supernatural was a very real part of Jesus’ every day existence. In our Western culture, we aren’t exactly in tune with the spiritual warfare around us. We consume fictional supernatural shows/movies/books, but that’s where we leave it. But we see here that there are spiritual things happening around us that we may not be aware of. The demons Jesus encountered knew exactly who he was. They knew his authority. Jesus may have granted their request as a way to demonstrate his authority to the witnesses and to us readers. Demons were subject to the authority. As followers of Jesus, we can take comfort in the fact that our savior rules over the evil powers in our world.
As followers of Jesus, we can take comfort in the fact that our savior rules over the evil powers in our world. Click To Tweet
There must have been a lot of demons in there, because a herd of 2,000 pigs became possessed and plunged down the hillside and into water, drowning themselves. As readers and Jesus followers, we’re conflicted. We’re attracted to the mercy shown by Jesus, and we love him for it. But we’re concerned about the damage that was done as a result. 2,000 pigs. The poor pigs! Also, that very well could have been the livelihood for the whole town. This likely devastated the people who lived here. The townspeople had to be left wondering, “Who is this man who has saved us from the demoniac who haunted our nightmares, but left us picking up the pieces of life as we knew it?”
In our favorite superhero movies, one thing that often gets forgotten is the damage left behind from the battles. We used to watch these movies and not notice this adverse effect. But lately, movies like Captain America: Civil War and The Incredibles 2 have been addressing the harm a city suffers from having been “saved” by a superhero.
In Captain America: Civil War, the United Nations tries to apply rules and regulations to the heroes with the Sokovia Accord, while Incredibles 2 just outlaws “supers” altogether. It brings to mind an uncomfortable truth that sometimes, good gets messy. Sometimes the ending can’t be wrapped in a neat box with a bow on top. We’re torn because we love these heroes, and they’re so essential in these stories (I mean, who’s going to protect us from vicious, evil aliens?!?) But it’s true, the damage we see leaves thousands without jobs as buildings plummet to the ground. It leaves financial ruin to cities and months and months, maybe years of clean-up. But the heroes move on, because after all, evil never rests. We finally hear of a relief program from Stark Industries, but it still comes with the implication that the damage will still happen.
In the story from Mark 5, we see two different reactions to what Jesus did. The townspeople begged Jesus to go away. In the podcast, “Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus” (in Season 3 Episode 8), Becky Herrington asks the intriguing question, “Why didn’t they just ask for what they lost back? Why did they turn away and just reject Jesus and tell him to leave when they knew he could perform that level of a miracle? Why didn’t they just get on their knees and say, ‘Can you help us get what we lost back?’” She compared it to people who have experienced tragedy and turned away from God afterwards. It is devastating to see people turn away from Jesus when we know that he really yearns to help them back onto their feet. The second reaction was that of the man who was rescued. He was so grateful, and he recognized Jesus’ goodness. He asked to join him and his followers, but Jesus instead told him to go and tell everyone what had happened.
On the website, Got Questions, they explained it this way, “In any case, the owners were so terrified to be in the presence of such spiritual power that they made no demand for restitution for the loss of their property and begged Jesus to leave the region. The people were awe-struck but unrepentant—they wanted no more of Jesus Christ. This shows the hardness of their hearts and their desire to remain in sin. The healed demoniac, on the other hand, demonstrated the true faith and repentance of a changed heart and begged to be allowed to follow Jesus. Perhaps the unmistakable difference between the saved and the unsaved was an object lesson for the disciples and all who witnessed the event. Jesus sent the healed man away, giving him a commission that he joyfully obeyed: "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you" (Read their full article here: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-demons-pigs.html )
Jesus doesn’t force us to love and follow him. He didn’t force the townspeople to see his goodness. He is truth. He is perfect. If we see a flaw in his decision in this story, we are in the wrong. We’d be the one who would need to adjust our sights. I am definitely not as aware of the supernatural going on around me as Jesus is. Jesus is gracious enough to accept the pleas of some of the most evil beings we know of. This shows us he is ruler of everything. The demons knew who they were dealing with; they knew they were at his mercy. I think we forget, too, that Jesus is the master of creation, so those pigs were his to decide what to do with more than they were the farmer’s. If the townspeople had been willing to recognize that Jesus’ power stemmed from goodness, they could have had their loss restored. It may not have been in the form of new pigs, but it could have been in a way Jesus planned for that was better in his big-picture plan.
As Mr. Incredible says, "Heavyweight problems need heavyweight solutions!" Sometimes good makes a mess. But we don’t have to leave it that way. Often times in order to get rid of the evil in the world, we will suffer some damage. If I was working in an office building in a busy city and saw Ironman zoom by, I’d be thrilled because of his good character, but pretty nervous... Because if he is there and suited up, a battle is probably taking place, and there will likely be some damage. When we feel God working on things in our lives, there’s often a break-down of life as we know it: “heart surgery,” as my friend, Jaime, calls it. It means tearing away the bad and revealing the good, ripping out the polluted and shining up the pure. It’s not pretty; it’s not fun. It can be painful. But after the damage is cleared away, we can stand back up, resulting in us being stronger and closer to God and with the enemy defeated. We can trust Jesus even when clean-up is needed, because we know he is good. And we love him for it.
Sometimes good makes a mess. But we don’t have to leave it that way. Click To Tweet
A.j. is a wife and SAHM, an eager follower of Jesus, and a chronically loud-laugher. She loves finding new ways to look at the Bible, in hopes to grow closer to Jesus and to find fresh ways to learn and teach others.
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