Secret Identities & the Uncanny Nature of Jesus Christ

clark-in-churchI’m an avid comic book fan. I spent most of my life feeling like my love of superheroes wasn’t something I shared with many grown adults. Then came 2008, blockbuster movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man ushering in a new wave of comic book mania. I began to see I was not alone. There is something about the idea of a Superhero that resonates deeply in our souls. We explored this idea in a recent post “The Importance of the Stories We Consume.” I believe the theme of heroes comes from an inner knowledge that we all need a savior, we all need to be rescued, and that none of us can do life without the help of someone more powerful than us.

I hope that my love of comics is something that I can share with my daughters; I take them with me to the local shop to pick up books all of the time. Comics were never a thing my father was into. Though I have fond memories of watching the original Star Wars Trilogy and the first two Ninja Turtles Movies with my dad, I always remember he had very little love for Superman. My dad grew up in the era of the Batman TV show and reruns of the Superman series, yet he was more into Hogan’s Heroes than any superheroes. I always found his rational behind these feelings to be some what intriguing.

Still to this day my dad will make the comment that he doesn’t understand why in the world anyone has not figured out that Clark Kent is Superman since they look exactly the same. This one issue, for him, was a complete turn off. Now, I have to agree that even as a comic book lover, the idea of Superman’s secret identity is quite flimsy. Even in the most recent movie, both Clark and Superman’s obituaries run in the same paper, about two men who look the same who have died on the same day, and no one puts two and two together.

In an era where everything in the media is over analyzed, there is no way this would actually happen in the real world. That being said, for narrative’s sake every superhero needs a secret identity. They use aliases and clever (or not so clever) disguises to hide who they really are in order to protect themselves, the people they love, and to have a shot at a normal life. They choose to be both the “Man of Steel” and the “mild mannered reporter.” While, any of us can see why these “dual identities” are beneficial to Clark Kent, it doesn’t change the fact that my dad’s argument about the character is valid.

We should be able to see through the disguise, but we don’t.

The central figure in Christianity shares many similarities to Clark Kent. This was laid out fairly heavily handed in Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel.” Jesus had a dual identity; the bible tells us he was both “fully God and fully man.” And while I think it would do a great disservice to run too far with the parallels between Jesus and Superman, I think we are often as blinded by Jesus’ humanity as we have been blinded by Clark’s hair and thick rimmed glasses.

The fact that God chose to become a man, and grow up among us is of key importance to our Faith. But if we are not careful, because God became a man, we can become like many of the neighbors who grew up around Jesus’ family in Nazareth. When he returned, he was unable to do miracles there and was ultimately rejected by those who had known him best. What is most intriguing about this account in Matthew 13 is why the Bible says this occurred.

“When Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that that they were astonished and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.” (Matthew 13:53-57 ESV, Emphasis Added)

The people of Nazareth had watched this boy grow into a man, they had heard of his miracles, and now had heard him teach with authority, but they just couldn’t see him as anything other than “the carpenter’s son.” Not only did they not see Jesus as the Messiah, the bible says they took offense at him. This was a tragic mistake on their part. By being unable to see through his human nature, they were unable to partake in his Divine Nature. Jesus responded to their offense in this way:

“Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:57-58, ESV)

This was not something that was unique to the people who knew Jesus as a boy. Even those closest to Jesus failed to see past His “fully human” body to the uncanny nature of Christ that was wrapped inside his “secret identity.” The twelve men that spent the most time working with Jesus once he began his ministry, had a front row seat to most of his miracles, even taking part in some of them. Yet, even they often confused him as just “one of the guys” from time to time. This is no more evident than on an encounter on a boat in the middle of a great storm.

In Mark chapter 4, Jesus asks his disciples to go on a boat ride to get away from the crowds for a bit. Jesus often liked to withdraw to replenish his soul; maybe like his Father he understood better than us the concept of rest. On this fateful journey, Jesus was sleeping in the bottom of the boat when a horrific storm rolled in. The fact that Jesus could sleep through the storm has always seemed like one of the coolest moments in his life. Some people find it easy to sleep in on rainy days, this was different, this was Jesus teaching a master class on resting in the midst of disaster in stead of panicking. The disciples were of a different frame of mind.

While Jesus slept, his followers freaked out. The storm was so bad that they literally felt like they were going to die. They woke Jesus from his nap so he could join in their panic attack. Jesus shook the sleep from his eyes and did one of the most miraculous things. He spoke to the storm and the storm listened.  Like the disciples, we are far too familiar with things to see how incredible God is. If you’ve grown up around church, you’ve heard this story time and time again, but in those constant rehearings, we are dulled to the simple fact that Jesus spoke to nature, and nature listened. This should catch us by no amount of surprise, after all Jesus was “fully God,” so doesn’t the creator have authority over what he has created? Yet, this still took the disciples by surprise.

“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41, ESV)

Now granted, this was still early on in Jesus’ ministry, these men had still seen first hand proof that Jesus was God’s son, yet because he was God in “a secret identity,” they were blinded in their moment of need, to see Jesus could do for them what no “mild mannered” ordinary man could do. This is something they continued to wrestle with throughout their time with Jesus. In Mark 11, they have a similar response to Jesus’ interaction with a fig tree.

For whatever reason, most of the time we are much more like Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and the rest of the Daily Planet staff. We can not see what is very plainly right in front of us. Like the disciples, we become so accustomed to thinking about Jesus as a man, that we actually forget that our God is something more than flesh and bones. He is not like us, and we should thank God for that fact.

If today God did something miraculous in front of you, would it catch you as off guard as it did the men in the boat with Jesus that fateful day? When we are in the midst of our own storms do we call on Jesus to wake up and take part in our panicking or do we realize that we have someone in our proverbial boat that created the wind and waves, and holds all authority over them, and EVERYTHING ELSE?

Let us not forget who God really is. He has no desire to hide his true identity from us. He is the hero we have always desired.

“God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Psalms 46:1-3, ESV)

We will not fear. God is present.

Grace and peace to you.