2nd Sunday of Lent Reflection by Paul Nicholson
Do you ever wonder about superheroes? Why are we so fascinated by them? What is it about super-human abilities that turns our heads? I googled “superhero” a moment ago and discovered SHDb (Superhero Database - https://www.superherodb.com/characters/ ) where I was given an alphabetical listing of all known superheroes—I didn’t count, but there must be hundreds, maybe thousands on the list. You can click on any name listed and read a complete analysis of the person and abilities. I quickly scanned through the list and, and on a whim, chose “One-Above-All,” I didn’t even know there was a superhero by this name. According to SHDb, One-Above-All comes from the Dr. Strange universe. Just below the headshot was a long list of superpowers, some of which I found perplexing: Dimensional travel, element control, immortality, invulnerability, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. (Why would an omnipresent being travel dimensionally?) If I didn’t know where I was on the web and what I was reading, I would assume the object described was God.
Though both God and Superheroes have powers and work for Good, it seems to me that there must also be a distinction. One is Absolute, the Other is derived. With God there is no jeopardy—no Kryptonite—to worry about; with a superhero there is always some chance of failure, otherwise the actions of the being would not be considered heroic. But as I thought about these things, I wondered, “do I sometimes blur the distinction, treating God like a superhero?” By that I mean, when I don’t get my way, do I ask/demand/expect God to change my circumstance to suit me? Or, when the world frightens me, when everything is going wrong, when crime runs rampant, when I have no hope, do I throw up my hands, look to God and say, “this is beyond me, use your powers and fix this, like magic.” If I am honest with myself, I think this happens quite a lot. When the doctor tells me I am unwell, I want God to miraculously make everything better. When yet another mass shooting occurs, when yet another innocent is gunned down in Chicago I want God to intervene like a superhero and make the guns disappear.
I went to Merriam Webster and asked for a definition of superhero: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also: an exceptionally skillful or successful person.
Then I asked Merriam for a definition of God: the supreme or ultimate reality: such as a) the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is on a mountaintop with Peter, James, and John when he is transfigured. While this is happening, two superheroes appear and begin talking with Jesus. Then the lights go out, things get murky, and a voice tells the three men that they should listen to what Jesus has to say. The lights come back up, the superheroes disappear, plain old Jesus is left standing there and, as they are coming down the mountainside, he tells them to be quiet about what happened.
Well…what happened? Did God punish evil-doers? Were wrongs righted? Were pain and suffering ended? Did Jesus use his superhuman powers to convince the doubtful? Did he restore Israel to its former glory? Was he given a magic cloak, or x-ray vision, or the ability to turn back time? It seems to me today’s Gospel reading shows me Jesus as neither God nor Superhero. So what am I to make of this transfiguration? Maybe the blessing of this story echoes the second part of Webster’s superhero definition: an exceptionally skillful or successful person. Maybe the skillful Jesus was the man who knew what needed to be said and to whom. Maybe his success was measured by the contrite heart of Zacchaeus or Mary Magdalene or Peter. Maybe there is an innate superhero potential in all of us, waiting for the opportunity to show itself—the exceptionally skillful listening ear of a friend, the successful forgiveness, understanding, and healing of a wrong, the mercy and compassion we show to the downcast. In these moments, are we not transfigured within, and do we not transfigure the world around us for good? We are superheroes in deed.