THE HULK IN HIDING

This reflection is based on Mark 16:15-20 for the feast of our Lord’s Ascension. (Spoiler alert!)

I needed a break the other day, so I decided to treat myself to the perfect movie. The perfectly mindless movie, that is: “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” that global blockbuster that features an all-star cast of superheroes plus platinum robot drones, with lots of flying, pummelling, explosions, and every possible CGI trick that technology could pull out of its latest hat.

Just the kind of movie I needed, I told myself at the ticket booth as I opted for the 2D because it’s cheaper and 3D makes me dizzy anyway.

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The movie didn’t disappoint. Shot virtually like a video game, some of its best scenes managed to include every single Avenger in carefully choreographed action sequences amidst a blur of flying hammer, shield and arrows. But what had promised to be a mindless movie turned out to be surprisingly thought-provoking. Seriously. And the irony of ironies is that the thought-provocation came from–of all the available superheroes in the cast–the least cerebral of them of all, the Hulk.

[If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want spoilers, you must stop reading right here, and please find another reflection on the Ascension.]

By the time we get to this movie, a budding relationship has begun to develop between Bruce Banner (the scientist who turns into the Hulk) and Natasha Romanoff (the assassin-turned-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Black Widow), so much so that only the Black Widow can calm the Hulk down and coax Bruce to reemerge. More than ever, however, Bruce realizes the danger his uncontrollable alter ego poses. Despite Natasha’s willingness to take the risk, he is reluctant to pursue their relationship, afraid that the Hulk would end up harming her. ‘Where in this world am I not a threat?’ he asks poignantly in one scene, a deeply human question from the apparently least human of the Avengers.

He answers that question towards the end of the movie. In the final scenes, the Hulk jumps on a jet to grab their escaping nemesis, Ultron, and throws him back down to Earth, leading finally to his end. The Hulk remains in the auto-piloted jet, hears the Black Widow gently instructing him to place the jet out of stealth mode so that he could be tracked and brought home, but the Hulk decides instead to shut down all communication. Later, we learn that the abandoned jet has been found near Fiji, but no trace of the green Avenger.

To his question, ‘Where in this world am I not a threat?’ his own answer is: “Nowhere.”

As I thought about this, a strange question crossed my mind: “Could the Hulk be some kind of Christ figure?” Used loosely, a “Christ figure” refers to any character, fictional or otherwise, that somehow reminds us of Jesus. That character need not be holy, but whether intended by the author or not, an action or event in that character’s story resembles something in the Lord’s life and starts a meaningful conversation.

I never thought of it before, but it struck me that the Hulk could be some kind of Christ figure. The scientist Bruce Banner has a dual nature, and for obvious reasons, he tries his very best to hide his uncontrollable and destructive alter ego. Our Lord has a duality as well–his divinity and humanity–and for a completely different reason, he hid his duality during his earthly life. But just as the Hulk occasionally slips out of Bruce, every once in a while in our Lord’s early life, his divinity would shine through–such as in the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and of course the Ascension. But–and this is crucial–unlike the case of the Hulk, it is anything but anger that unleashes the divine in the Lord Jesus.

Once we manage to look beyond the vast differences, we may even–to our surprise–recognize in the Hulk a loneliness that the Lord must have experienced as the Incarnate God on earth, a deep loneliness familiar to every creature who has for whatever reason felt too odd in a world much too flat.

The fate of the Hulk in this particular Avenger movie is particularly significant for today’s celebration of the Ascension. For the sake of those he loves, the Hulk takes flight.

Sounds like the Lord’s Ascension.

For the sake of those he loves, the Lord goes into hiding, so that in the hiding, the Holy Spirit is poured into the world, a more universally pervasive though hidden presence.

I think that one sad, powerful message of the Ascension is captured by that image of the Hulk sitting quietly alone before the computer screen in that jet as he decides to go into hiding. Sometimes, to love others, we need to leave them, to let them go, to tell them to “stop holding on to us” (John 20:17).

Sometimes loving means leaving.

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33 thoughts on “THE HULK IN HIDING”

  1. The unconditional love of Jesus maybe found in a friend.
    Rare it maybe but worth finding and when found its most
    precious than a diamond stone.And I thank you for the kind
    of love shared to be a sacrifice to entails here and now.
    God bless you for all what you are doing in this webside.

  2. I did not join the family when they watched the Avengers
    because I do not like fighting. I thought your homily gives
    a contemporary metaphor which the young ones will
    appreciate. I will share it with them. One day i will have to
    learn to let go.

    1. Thanks, Mercy! It’s tricky to look for contemporary metaphors for the ancient truths and mysteries of our faith, but try we must. :) And yes, letting go is indeed a process that takes time.

  3. Father, I agree that sometimes REAL LOVE means saying goodbye, but how can someone live with such a decision, knowing that he has hurt the person he holds most dear?

  4. The comparison of Hulk to Jesus Christ as described in the reflection may appear far fetched if not outright exceedingly impertinent to others. Some may even think it is offensive but what is being given a point here is the parallelism between Hulk’s dual personae and Christ’s two-fold characters that exemplify sacrifice for the good of the many. Hulk in his desire not to hurt anyone opted to banish in oblivion and obviously turned his back from the love of his life and the perks of being famous. Christ doesn’t leave us completely but He gives us the freedom of choice which we sometimes construe as desertion. And there lies the huge difference because God loves His people so much that He will never abandon them. He may decide to go incognito at some stages in our lives but He will always be there watching and waiting for us to realize we need Him every step of the way.

  5. Hi, Fr Johnny. Thanks for your reflection. Mine took the opposite route as well but for different reasons. For me, the Hulk represented myself. Black Widow was the Christ-figure. Black Widow/Christ always wants to reach out, to calm us, and to assure us that everything will be fine. She/He is not afraid to take risks with us and tells us She/He will go wherever The Hulk/We want/s to. But in a vein no less green than Banner’s alter ego, we refuse and say that we cannot accept the sinful, destructive “hulk” in ourselves. Our sinfulness makes us think that we are a threat to everyone. Our sinfulness makes us think that we have a home with no one. When we God’s reaching hand to us, we will do exactly as what the Hulk did – hide and cut off all communication. We stop praying. We stop centring ourselves and go into stealth mode. We hope no one will reach us. Eventually, we will crash to the earth. Like the Hulk, we refuse to acknowledge that we are worthy of being loved. That we are worthy enough for someone to say – “Let me take your hand. Let me live with you. Let me love you.” At this point the analogy breaks down. God is more capable than Natasha and He will not allow us to crash and burn. He is more than capable of finding us. In fact, he not only finds us, but sits (or flies) with us. He remains with us even in our dark night, journeying with us. Reminding us that we are worth being found. That we are worth waiting for. That we are worth being loved.

    1. Wow, this is a great reflection! Indeed Natasha/the Black Widow is another Christ-figure because of her unconditional love for us, despite the “sinful, destructive Hulk” in us :) Thanks for sharing!

  6. COMPLETELY FAR-FETCHED.

    One does NOT have to go to the Hulk to “draw lessons” from the life of Christ.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Balty! I completely agree. We don’t have to go anywhere else to learn about Christ, but sometimes it helps if only for the reflections it provokes (cf. some great reflections posted by other readers). And the idea IS to be far-fetched. :)

      1. The idea isn’t so farfetched if one would only look to the Hulk story paralleling Christ’s in that there is a duality to their respective nature. One may be human and divine while the other human and monstrous but in both cases, they must leave one behind in order to fulfill the other. On a lighter note, using something as current is something I have always appreciated in Fr. J’s reflections– he tries to make it more relevant, I guess especially more for the youth in his audience.

  7. This quote comes to my mind..

    “If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t.
    If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”

  8. Thanks so much for this Fr J. This reflection reminds me that when you are a follower of Christ, you will see him (or he will meet you) everywhere – including in pop culture. Nothing is secular!

    I agree with Ms V’s comment. It is Christ’s humanity that tugs at my heart the most. I can barely relate to His divinity and have trouble thinking of myself as a saint (although we are all called to be). But those moments He shows us His humanity, His vulnerability – those are the times I have hope and that hope fuels my faith.

    As for loving and leaving – we all know the bittersweetness of that – how humbling that even in that poignant experience – He relates to us through the Ascension.

    *Insert deep, wordless sighs of awe and praise here*

    1. Thank you! We are invited to “find God in all things” although of course these traces of Him will never be perfect images of Him, so we need to sort them out and just keep trying. Your opinion about Christ’s humanity, like Ms V’s, is really valid, and something all of us can identify with since we grew up having His divinity emphasized often at the cost of His humanity. So those moments when His humanity and vulnerability are revealed can really touch our hearts.

  9. Today, reflecting on the Ascension, eyes fixed on the ascending Christ, I feel alone, sad and lonely. I feel I am being left behind. And all of a sudden, I am scared. And that is exactly where I am in my life today…..it seems I have lost everything. The landscape has changed to a dark and unfamiliar one… and no one to cling to…no one to grasp….I do not know where the Resurrection has gone….I look to that shining spec in the sky, growing smaller and smaller….and fear’s fingers tighten around my heart…and I remember…the Holy Spirit will come and will “renew the face of the earth”….I will wait for HIM.

    1. My prayers are with you in your sadness and loneliness. But as you yourself say, even despite your fear, you have faith to know that the Lord hasn’t abandoned us but is sending us His Spirit.

  10. I love my daughter very much but I have to let het go when she decided to get married. It was painful then and my life has changed. Today she gave me two handsome and very smart grandsons that gives me so much joy and happiness. Indeed sometimes love means letting go.

  11. Yeah… ” Sometimes loving means leaving.” Painful, yet we have to learn to accept it. Love always entails sacrifice.

  12. Contrary to yours, my reflection took me in the other direction. The Lord’s duality is the human and divine. I guess because I have always dwelt on His being the son of God, His divinity to me, is a given. It’s when His humanity shines manifests itself that I am moved like when He tried to get out His impending death. Oftentimes, I catch myself asking God if I can get out of some trial and when this happens, I remember Christ’s humanity and am one with Him. But the challenge is for me to also say, “And yet Your will, Father, and not mine.”

    1. I can identify with your sharing. It’s so true that we who grew up accustomed to the Lord’s divinity being emphasized are moved–even surprised–when we catch a glimpse of His humanity. During his earthly life though, it was His humanity that was manifest. Your reflection reminds us to be more appreciative of the Incarnation, which, when we think about it, is really the heart of our faith.

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