“CAN YOU BLAME US?” (Lk 9:22-25): 07 February 2008 (Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
The TV series “Smallville” is, of course, about Clark Kent (played by Tom Welling) before he discovers his superpowers and becomes Superman. It’s already on its 7th season, but I’ve only watched the first season back in 2002. As it sometimes happens to some successful shows, the second season got a little too weird for me (Think “Lost”) although I’m told that the later seasons are actually quite good.
Since Superman is a rich and powerful metaphor for Christ, we can really draw a lot from the story of the young Clark Kent in terms of thinking and talking about Christ. But today I’d like to talk about his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent (played by John Schneider), especially as compared to Lionel Luthor, the father of Clark’s best friend and future nemesis, Lex.
Towards the end of one memorable episode, Clark and Lex sit together outdoors—a sad, quiet moment between best friends who, we know, will later turn into mortal enemies. Clark and Lex talk about life in general and their respective fathers in particular. They know that their fathers cannot be more different from one another: Clark’s father, Jonathan, is a simple and principled man who works hard every day in their farm just to make both ends meet. Lex’s father, Lionel, on the other hand, is extravagantly rich, a tycoon who is willing to do anything and to step on anyone—including his own son—to make himself even richer and more powerful.
Lionel Luthor is extremely successful by the world’s standards, but his own son Lex despises him. Clark’s father, Jonathan, on the other hand, is a poor man by comparison, but he is a good man. As a result, he is loved and respected by his family, his neighbors, and even by his son’s best friend. One father dreams to be the king of the world; the other desires only to do what is right, to be a child of God.
More than the two sons, more than the future Superman and his future nemesis, it is the two fathers who are, for me, the most important characters of the series. After all, it is they who exercise the greatest influence on their sons’ characters. Jonathan’s values, his service-orientedness, his humility—all this will play an essential part as Clark Kent discovers and learns to deal with his superpowers. On the other hand, Lionel’s lack of values and principles, his selfishness, his manipulativeness—all this will influence his son when Lex much later makes his life-defining choice to use whatever he has only for himself and against others.
In today’s gospel, our Lord tells us what disciple entails: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Reading those words, I can’t help but think of the Lionel Luthors of this world who are doing the exact opposite. I also can’t help but think of the Lionel Luthor in mewho’s tempted to do the same. But really, can you blame us?
One look at the world and the kind of people that thrive in it, and I wonder if there is any good in doing what the Lord says. Can we actually save our life by losing it? Is it not the case that more often than not, we just end up losing our lives precisely when we take his words literally? Whether we like it or not, aren’t Jonathan Kent and his like considered the losers of this world, and don’t Lionel Luthor and his cohorts emerge too frequently the shameless victors?
But once in a while, we do bump into the Jonathan Kents of this world, and they bewilder us: People who take the Lord’s words literally despite the consequences; good people who quietly and faithfully live their lives of service; people who deny their own needs and desires, bear the cross of Christ, and try to follow him each day of their lives; people who walk away from their needs and desires that they deserve and can easily get; people who instead of spitting out cutting words of anger humbly and quietly swallow their pain; people who waste their time foolishly helping those in need.
The Jonathan Kents of this world challenge us to examine ourselves, and their lives question the Lionel Luthor in us with all our self-satisfaction and smugness. In the light of the Lord’s words, these people leave us wondering about our own attempts at discipleship.
Right before the closing credits, Lex Luthor sums up his conversation with Clark by paying his friend’s dad the biggest compliment of all. He tells his friend, “Clark, my dad is the type who will rule the world, but yours will inherit the earth.”
(image: from “Smallville”)
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “Which do you prefer? To rule the world or to inherit the earth?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question. An appropriate topic, I think, as we begin the season of Lent and–for the Chinese among us–as we begin a new lunar year today.