Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

"Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two."  Matt. 5:41

In the first Spider-Man film in 2002 staring Tobey Maguire, the classic line passed on with sage wisdom from Uncle Ben (then played by Cliff Robertson) was "with great power comes great responsibility."

In The Amazing Spider-Man, the 2012 reboot with Andrew Garfield now in the lead role, that advice has broadened, and while never explicitly said, seems to say: power or no power, we all have been given a great responsibility.

Like the original ten years prior, this movie tells the origin story of how Peter Parker became Spider-Man.  This time, however, more emphasis is put on the mysterious disappearance of Peter's parents early in his life.  As a teenager, he obsesses about finding out why they vanished, so much so that he is all-consummed with this journey that he neglects his surrogate family, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), in the process.

While the search for one's origins and family is understandable, it completely overwhelms Peter - leading an otherwise caring, cautious, and generous young man to do some irresponsible things like sneaking into a scientific research laboratory - and ultimately getting caught in a room of genetically-altered spiders (one of which, almost as on cue, bites him and begins his transformation).

After an argument with his aunt and uncle (regarding his self-obsession with his biological parents and the consequential forgetfulness about his current family), Peter storms off by himself.

In what may be the most pivotal scene in the film, Peter sulks into a convenience store and finds he cannot fully afford a bottle of milk (being short two cents); the store clerk is hardly sympathetic, saying that Peter's plight is not his concern.  A minute later, when the store gets robbed, an angry Peter tells the clerk that this new circumstance is not his responsibility either.

Both the clerk and Peter sound familiar to our ears.  How often do we say, "It's not my responsibility"?  When a car is stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire, is it our responsibility to help?  When a colleague or neighbor is struggling, is it our responsibility to help?  And even when we are in the midst of our own problems, should it really be our responsibility to help someone else when no one has yet to come to our aid?  Can't someone else take that on for now, or at least until our own issues are taken care of?

Even if we apply the 2002 Spider-Man philosophy to things ("with great power..."), this movie's Peter Parker, and all of us by extension, still seem justified in our inaction...  because we don't often feel we have great power (and on most days, feel powerless). So what concern is it to us?  Why should we go out of our way to help someone else?  Their plight has nothing to do with us.  Maybe someone with great power can take care of that, but not us.

Over time, this attitude creates a wall around us, like Peter Parker obsessing over his personal life, oblivious to the world around him.  We can become insular, focusing only on the problems we've been handed and acting for others only when it benefits our situation.

Peter learns his lesson all too soon, though, as the store thief runs into Uncle Ben, who has been out looking for his nephew.  Even though Ben is trying desperately to reconnect with Peter, he takes a moment and makes this robber his concern.  He tries to talk to him, but is quickly shot and killed.  The gunshot gets Peter's attention, and he soon discovers the dead body of his uncle.

His lack of responsibility, it seems, has cost him more than he could have imagined.

With or without great power, we are charged with concerning ourselves with the welfare of all God's people - even the ones we don't even like.  In the Gospels, Jesus says, "If anyone wants to go to law over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two.  Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on anyone else who may want to borrow." (Mt. 5:40-42)

What Jesus is getting at is encouraging us to get out of our own bubble.  We have a habit of thinking only about our own welfare, or at most, the welfare of our closest friends and family.  Anything else is of no concern to us.  Jesus challenges us to go the extra mile, and to never turn our back on anyone, no matter how insignificant they may seem in our life right now.

Had Peter Parker followed Jesus' advice in this scene, we would have had the joy of watching Martin Sheen's performance as Uncle Ben for the rest of the movie.  Sure, Peter was angry and upset; one might argue that he - or any of us - would be justified in taking the time to shut out the world.  However, it is precisely at times like this that we need to follow Jesus' advice even more purposefully.

Sin and temptation are greatest when we are preoccupied with our own selves.  Conversely, the greatest love happens when we extend ourselves to others when it is most difficult for us to so.

As Peter dons the Spider-Man outfit in this movie, he begins to realize that the world's concerns are his own, no matter how much he is personally hurt by others.  This is what makes a superhero: when we can look beyond our own needs for the sake of another. Whether we have great power or not, we are all called to the great responsibility of loving and helping the world around us.

In fact, the most exciting scene in this film is not due to the web-slinging or acrobatic tricks of Spider-Man, but thanks to a bunch of blue-collar New York construction workers who pave the way for the epic finale.  For some of them, it wasn't even their job or their concern; but they stepped up.  They didn't have power or authority, but they could do something for someone in need.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.  You don't need a college degree to serve.  You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve... and you can be that servant." (The Drum Major Instinct, 1968).

Everyone can be great because everyone has the capacity to get outside themselves to serve others.  Everyone, then, has a great responsibility given to them.  If only everyone stepped up to that responsibility.

It doesn't mean single-handedly saving New York City from the clutches of The Lizard monster or swooping in to save a child stuck in a car that's dangling over a bridge.  It doesn't mean we have to start a soup kitchen in our homes or travel to the third world right now and live a life of poverty, though it also doesn't mean that these aren't possible either.

But it does mean that we need to start somewhere, somehow.  It means concerning ourselves with people other than ourselves, other than our family, and other than our friends.  It means helping a stranger in need or an acquaintance that seems to be struggling.  It means making ourselves aware of global issues and social concerns, both locally and internationally.  It means going the extra mile even if we're not asked to do so.  It means giving away our goods even when it's not the holidays or the latest food drive.

No matter what it is for you or me, we can all go beyond ourselves for something. Imagine what would happen if everyone did that.  Now that's a superhero story everyone would be excited to hear - and one that God hopes we all have a starring role in.

It's a story, though, that starts very simply - one that starts with you and me.  So what are we waiting for?

1 comment:

Kathleen Kirkpatrick said...

I haven't seen the latest Spider Man, yet but I hope to do so soon. As a teacher in a public high school I sometimes use films for character education. When I first viewed this blog I was very curious how anybody could get anything "spiritual" out of Spider Man. After reading the blog I did some reflecting on my own life. Am I using the powers God has given me. Thank you