got love all around me
When I stopped running and started going to the gym, I read a few articles about how to stick with it. The reason I was joining a gym in the first place was because my discipline to keep running by myself was rapidly waning…
My favorite piece of advice was to watch inspirational films.
You know; Rocky, Rudy, Hoosiers, Miracle. Those kind of movies…
Turns out; I’m a total sucker for these movies.
Sometimes Amanda will pop in, and catch me wiping tears from my face. “Are you crying,” she will ask.
And I will mutter back, “Only the manliest of tears.”
Maybe you’ve seen these movies. Even if you haven’t, though; you already know their plot.
The hero faces some challenge. Some challenge that, as things stand, the hero cannot best. To overcome the trial, the hero must go on a journey to acquire the key that will turn the tides in their favor. After not a few tribulations, the hero returns with the key and overcomes the challenge.
In most sports movies, the journey is a training montage. You know, Rocky running around the yard trying to catch the chicken. Rocky in the locker, giving a side of beef a left-hook.
But this trope isn't limited to sports movie, you know.
Truth be told, it’s basically the plot to every movie you go out to see - or rent for a night-in. Westerns, action-adventures, the ubiquitous superhero movies; even rom-coms.
We all know that cycle. It’s embedded in our psyche. That’s why movies are so comforting; the details may vary, but the structure is the same. We go to the movie to watch the hero overcome the odds.
What makes for an especially interesting film is when the motif is twisted in an unexpected way. Or sometimes, even subverted.
*Like Million Dollar Baby, where the boxer is trained. And instead of overcoming the odds, she’s crushed by them. And, by the way, only a strong woman could play that role; can you imagine Rocky falling onto a misplaced stool?
Truthfully, though, what’s so particularly good about Rocky is that it twists the familiar plot in a satisfying way.
I don’t mean the whole franchise, though. Just the first Rocky. Or it’s latest iteration, “Creed.”
Like in the first Rocky. Balboa doesn’t defeat his nemesis. He just barely survives Apollo Creed’s beating. But he goes the distance. And somehow in losing, but barely hanging on, he overcomes the real challenge.
Or in Creed. When the now sick and aging Balboa tells Apollo’s son, that his real enemy isn’t the other boxer, but the man in the mirror.
It’s a familiar trope, isn’t it? The couple fall in love, but in no time, something comes between them. They must overcome it, and prove their love.
It’s a familiar story, and Hollywood knows what to do with it.
But this isn’t Hollywood. Is it?
This is real life.
At least it was for the disciples and the would-be followers who try to keep up with Jesus as his face is set to Jerusalem.
Jesus who does not journey to find the key to overcome the odds. But instead is overcome by the cruelty of humanity, and dies on a cross like a common crook.
The thing every movie has in common is that no matter what; the solution is the same. The hero must dig deep, give if their best, their all if they are to overcome the odds.
Jesus’ life, however, is lived not by giving it his best; but by obedience…
Furthermore, in the scripture for today, we hear as three individuals approach Jesus full of the best they have to offer; only to be rebuffed!
-The first person comes up to Jesus, declaring her fortitude to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Only to be told that the one she proposes to follow, will be permanently homeless.
-The second person is called to follow Jesus. Thinking it over the person replies that the funeral arrangement haven’t been finalized yet. And Jesus just says not to bother with any of that.
-The third person says he will follow, but first he needs say goodbye. Jesus curtly tells him that, that kind of behavior has no place in the Kingdom of God!
Here are three people. Digging deep. Giving it all they have to prepare for their journey with Jesus, only to be told-off!
Because this isn’t Hollywood. This is real life. And in real, ordinary, daily life it isn’t evil’s worst that hinders God’s plan. Is it?
In the everyday grind, it’s our best that gets in the way.
That is the hard truth about Jesus’ face set toward Jerusalem.
In the end it will be a collaboration between the civil and religious establishments that will crucify Jesus.
And none of this, they were all crooked anyway, nonsense.
When you learned about the Pax Romana who, exactly, were the good guys? Or the Temple, for that matter. Let’s not be anti-semitic here of all places. The Church and the temple are always founded on our highest aspirations; the desire to glorify God.
It is the very virtues that society and religion are built on, that will kill Jesus. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you don’t believe me; look at the three would-be followers. It isn’t vices that keep them from following Jesus. It’s virtues: Ambition, family and respect for your elders.
Beloved, that’s what’s really going to be hard this Lent.
The real temptation will be to imagine that these 40 days are our journey to overcome evil; even our own evil. Be it with our works of love or our fasts from self-indulgence.
What you need to hear this Ash Wednesday, though, is that Jesus has already overcome evil. Your’s and the world’s. All evil.
And the truth be told, all our efforts are most likely to interfere. Or, lead to even greater evil.
Because that’s what Hollywood doesn’t know.
Not that there is a dark side to all our virtues. Just watch the movie Tombstone and the way it inverts the hero’s journey, if you’re unsure of that.
No, what Hollywood doesn’t know, is that you are not left on your own.
Every hero in the movie, they have to dig deep and give it their all, because in the end, they’re all they have.
If they fail, that’s the end of the movie. There are no sequels for the losers.
What the Gospel promises, though, is that you are not on your own. You have Jesus Christ.
Jesus who set his face to Jerusalem to die by his and every other death, to save you from your’s. Jesus who set his face to Jerusalem to die by all our sin, to save you from your’s.
Win, lose of draw, Jesus is your’s. You are not alone. You are not on your own. Jesus has died to save you. Save you from your worst, yes. But even your best, too.
You are not alone. You have more than your vices or virtues to rely on. You have Jesus. Jesus who’s face is set toward his death, to save you from your’s.