Secret Identities & Spandex

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Most everybody knows Clark Kent is Superman, Bruce Wayne is Batman, Peter Parker is Spiderman, Matt Murdock is the Daredevil, and Wally West is the Flash. My sincerest apologies if you didn’t know, and now you do. I didn’t know. I had to look it up. And I read somewhere that these five characters are among the last of the current comic-book superheroes who have yet to fess up and reveal their true selves to the world. But who are they kidding? It’s not like the information isn’t available on the internet. I found it. Okay, so maybe nobody knows it in their comic-book world. Clearly nobody is smart enough to connect the dots, and tell that Superman and Clark Kent look exactly alike minus Clark’s glasses and the little curlicue on Superman’s forehead, and that they are never seen in public at the same time.

And can anyone explain why superheroes with superpowers need secret identities anyway? Is the disguise to catch criminals when they least expect it? I mean, would it prevent you from doing evil if some crime-fighting hero in spandex and a clever disguise was hiding somewhere in the crowd? Or are they just that fearful the paparazzi would out them on a trip to the grocery store for cigarettes, Doritos and beer? Do they need a break every now and again from their terribly hectic superhero life so they can be ordinary and boring? Is it too much for them to bear being on their best behavior all the time, doing good things for others, putting away the bad guys, and standing up for truth, justice, and the American way? Does being a superhero mean you can’t ever let your hair down? And would they ever be free to retire from superhero status, and return to being normal again, maybe somewhere on a beach in the Baja?

So who did you want to be? It is a common childhood fantasy to imagine oneself a superhero of some kind. You get to be completely ordinary and boring half the time, then the other half you get to be famous and invincible as you bring criminals to justice and save the world. I would have loved some super powers and a cape, but I had no desire to use them to catch criminals. And there was no way I was wearing spandex.

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A superhero is a kind of mythical character that belongs to the fantasy lore of a people, who embodies their most noble ideals and aspirations, and possesses extraordinary abilities which they use to defend and protect the vulnerable, the oppressed, and those in need. Superheroes can sometimes have powers beyond and even contrary to the nature of ordinary humans, abilities like x-ray vision, invisibility, mind control, or the power of flight. Some among them don’t possess actual super powers, just unprecedented access to cutting-edge technology and the ability to use it to achieve their noble ends. In their superhero mode they are always completely logical and amazingly persuasive, never unnerved by danger and destruction, and always completely focused on the pursuit of good. And in their ordinary non-superhero mode, they can be clumsy, forgetful, and prone to the same weaknesses we all share. I’m sure it’s an act, although at times I wonder. Is it easier for them to be superhero-like or to be ordinary and mortal? I prefer to think a more evolved identity would take charge, so it would take less effort to be who you really are. And if they still need to conceal their special powers, that would be the harder task.

When Jesus asked his apostles who people said he was, he didn’t fear his true identity had been made known. The gospels were all written in the generation after Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. So everything about him would only have made sense in light of the Christian community’s belief about his true identity, that he was truly the Christ, the Anointed of God, the One who would redeem us from our sins, the One who would reconcile us to God through his suffering, death, and resurrection. So the Christian community then and we in this present age would answer the question he asked in very much the same way as Peter did. “You are the Christ of God,” meaning the Anointed, the Messiah, who suffered, died, and rose again.

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It is in light of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection that passages in the Old Testament come into clearer focus. What we read from the prophet Zechariah, written four centuries before his birth, is striking in its description of the role Jesus would play in salvation history. “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.” But his suffering and death alone would not define him. There would be a rising to new life. While to us who have not witnessed it first-hand, it remains beyond our grasp, a mystery, still we proclaim it all – his suffering, death, resurrection when we mean to define or describe him. And the prophet sheds some light on the meaning of it all. “On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” His suffering, death, and resurrection would bring about purification from sin and uncleanness for Israel, for Jerusalem, and for all people.

So when Jesus spoke of how he would “be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” he revealed to us that he understood his identity, his own true self, and the role he would play in God’s plan. It would define him for all ages. By it the world would know he was no ordinary man. But only the eyes of faith would see his true identity. The unbelieving would not come to know the mystery. It would be hidden from their sight.

Then he placed a challenge before us. Our discipleship must mean the same as his own role in God’s plan. “Anyone who wishes to come after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So if we would know our true selves, if we would truly be his disciples, we would do as he did. Through faith and baptism into Christ Jesus we have become his disciples and children of the Father. So it is in our true nature to live and breathe and participate in the life of God. With the Father we would partake of the work of creation. With the Son we would help extend God’s compassion, healing, and reconciliation to others. And with the Holy Spirit we would set out into the world to proclaim the Good News, to build the Kingdom of God, and to renew the face of the earth. By faith and baptism into Christ Jesus, we have become his disciples and children of the Father. This is our true identity. We cannot be anything less. So why do we still hesitate to participate fully in the life of God? Why do we still prefer to be ordinary and boring, when we have within ourselves the power to transform the world?

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You want to be a superhero? Because of your baptism, you kind of already are. So go get the cape, but you can skip the spandex.

Rolo B. Castillo © 2013