Sunday, October 23, 2011

Real Steel

"You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I cam against you in the name of the Lord of hosts...!" 1 Sam. 17:45

Real Steel imagines a world in the not-too-distant future where people demand so much violence from their boxing and wrestling matches that robots have taken over in the ring (since mechanical athletes can take a lot of physical punishment and quench the appetite for intense violence without the loss of human life).

This particular story, however, is told from the perspective of Charlie (Hugh Jackman), a tired ex-boxer who now makes his living behind the controls of low-end robots. Moving from county fair to illegal underworld boxing matches, Charlie can never seem to reach the big leagues - mostly due to his impulsive spirit and brazen overconfidence. He is stuck in a seemingly endless cycle where he ends up destroying his work and then begs for money to start over again, only to lose yet another robot in the process.

Against this backdrop, we come to learn that Charlie's son Max (Dakota Goyo) is now an orphan. It seems that Charlie has been battling these bad habits for awhile, as this is the first encounter with his son since he was born (as Charlie abandoned mother and child when things didn't go so well 11 years prior).

In a crude effort to cut his losses and make a few dollars, Charlie agrees to temporarily watch over Max for the summer in exchange for $100,000.

But once father and son are reunited, the story takes a new turn. Max becomes the most unexpected partner in Charlie's boxing business, offering advice and creative ideas that actually seem to work. Max also brings into Charlie's life a new robot: Atom, a beaten-up, near-obsolete, junkyard sparring machine.

Max sees himself in Atom... abandoned, overlooked, and sold for scraps... and because of this, makes it his mission to bring Atom up-to-speed and become the best fighter in the ring. His first test is to convince Charlie that he and Atom are worth taking a risk on. It's an important hurdle that, once overcome, yields an adventure where Atom actually moves up the ranks and, surprising to everyone, goes steel toe-to-toe with the international grand champion robot behemoth, Zeus.

Max's story and Atom's story are not unlike many of the stories from the Scriptures, where the heroes emerge from the least likely places and to everyone's surprise. The message God seems to send is: don't underestimate the least, the powerless, or the forgotten ones.

Consider David, the lowly shepherd boy from the backwater country, unnoticed even by his own family. It was David, small and diminutive, who stood up against the mighty Goliath when no one else stepped forward. "You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts," said the young David (1 Sam. 17:45). When no one else thought he had a chance, it was David who proved everyone wrong.

Throughout history, God seems to favor the poor, rejected, and underestimated while others forget they're even there. Max and Atom fit well in that incredible tradition.

Do we ever feel like Max or Atom, underestimated by others? Or do we ever act like Charlie or Zeus, passing over the poor and rejected in favor of the strong and successful? Most likely, we have been on both sides of the ring at different points in our lives. Either way, it's never too late to learn this lesson again.

In his ministry, Christ reminded us of this when he befriended the lepers, the sick, and the blind; when he reached out to the short and forgotten Zaccheus up in the tree; and when he raised up a possessed woman to become the first witness to the Resurrection. It was Christ who taught us, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" (Mt. 20:16), and through his death on a cross, fulfilled the wisdom of Scripture: "...the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." (Ps. 118:22)

Whenever we feel that we are up against impossible odds, we must always remember that those are the places where God shines the brightest. God favors the lowly, and lifts up the least among us. And because of that, we also need to be conscious that we do not reject the least in front of us each day - for if we do that, we reject those whom God empowers.

Let us pray that, with faith in a God who loves the least, we might be lifted up when we feel the lowest. Let us also pray that we may never put down, ignore, reject, or diminish anyone in our path, most especially those whom we least expect to save the day.

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