It was an unforgettable first impression. The title of the photograph said, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and above said verbiage stood five characters.
One was scruffy boy-next-door cute, one was a haunted-looking green girl, another was a Bluto-esque very muscly bald grump, one was half-human/half-tree, and the fifth, the most memorable, was a small raccoon, standing upright with arms over his chest, glaring at me with righteous scorn.
I couldn’t help but chuckle and shake my head. This was NOT your ordinary pod of world-saving superheroes. Especially the snarky raccoon.
See for yourself – here’s the trailer.
And indeed, they aren’t! Which is probably why they were an ENORMOUS critical and box-office smash last summer. This was (is!) comedy adventure (or is it “adventure comedy”?) at its sharpest, liveliest, best.
What makes these guys so delightful, watchable and loveable are the wacky way they look, and the often foolish way they talk (for example, the Tree Man, who has a million profound things to communicate, only says “I Am Groot” repeatedly, and from this the cranky raccoon is able to translate volumes). In addition, they often cleverly get out of their scrapes (check out dance-off that allows our hero to capture the orb that saves the galaxy)...
and the happy ending that guarantees one sequel of 17. And I can’t wait to check out them all.
What’s even more interesting, from the Christian perspective, is that when you put on a pair of comic lenses, we can begin to see how the Bible (the writer of Hebrews in particular) encourages us to know the universe is in similarly good, gracious and, well, maybe even goofy hands.
Especially if we look at Hebrews 11, where the author (who some presume to be Paul, although it’s probably not) lists a series of well-known biblical characters who now form a “cloud of witnesses.” It would seem their great faith led them straight to heaven at their deaths where, up in the ether, they are now most ably helping God rule over things. In addition, the example they provided while on earth are to help inspire the present faithful generation to similar heights of heroism.
True guardians of the galaxy this cloud of witnesses most certainly is!
The list is rather surprising. Unforgettable, really. Not your ordinary pod of world-saving superheroes.
Let’s go with the well-known last half of the list which both comprises the lectionary epistle reading of last week (Hebrews 11:29-12:2) and, per usual when it comes to biblical lists, builds to a climax by list’s-end.
So at v. 29 we start with our first super-heroes of the faith, the Hebrews slaves, who miraculously crossed the Red Sea as if on dry ground on their way to the Promised Land. How astounding and fine. After that, though, instead of faith they complained every ding-dong day that this day God probably wouldn’t remember to bring them manna to eat (although every day, EVERY DAY, God did, without fail). Their constant dissatisfaction with everything about this great trip to freedom led God to want to kill them all. Thank God poor Moses talked God out of it.
Next lifted up are “the walls of Jericho” that fell after being encircled seven days. You’d think the Hebrews doing the encircling would receive the praise, but no. Sounds a little like that great (and very wacky) “Fantastic Four” superhero Ben Grimm,” who is made of stone.
Yes, in the words of Mr. Grimm, the razing of Jericho was the ultimate “clobberin’ time”!!
Next we have the one woman listed by name in this second half of the witness list Rahab, from Joshua 2. She’s not necessarily goofy, but she is a smart, courageous, clever alien (read “Canaanite”) prostitute – the kind of strangely heroic, sexy character that often comprises the token woman in a comic ensemble (not unlike green Gamora, the Zoe Saldana character in “Guardians.”)
We also have listed here such notables as Barak who, in the book of Judges, is said to be a great and courageous war general who nevertheless refuses to go out and fight his climactic battle unless Deborah will go with him. What? He needs the help of a girl? Is he an unflappably evolved male or nothing but a hopeless wuss? In the tradition of the Cowardly Lion?
Speaking of colorful cowards, another of the listed heroes is Gideon, who throughout Judges 6 has a helluva time getting God to convince him he’s got what it takes to be a leader. It’s worse than Moses!
And then there are the other gallants of Judges like Jepthah, who can’t keep his mouth shut after winning a big victory for the Israelites – he promises he will sacrifice on the altar the first person to provide his heroes welcome upon returning home. Unfortunately, it’s his young, beloved, and virginal daughter. Way too bad for her.
Also listed is Sampson, the seemingly invincible long-locked Marvel who also can’t keep his mouth shut after being nagged almost to death. He reveals the secret to his strength and after the big snip-snip to his hair is ignominiously weakened, blinded and imprisoned. (Sounds like he was distracted by the Ancient Near Eastern counterpart to a dance-off....)
He might as well have been distracted by a dance-off....
Of course all of these less-than-overwhelming “cloud of” characters to find a way to dramatically (or is it comically?) save the day for and with God, although, like with the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s not through the kind of unflappable heroics you’d expect coming from a “hero.”
Plus all of these guys (and gal), for the most part, not unlike the Guardians of the Galaxy, look somehow WEIRD!
And even the clearly heroic ones are weird. Like Daniel, one of the prophets listed in 11:33. His faith, like a fairy tale, brings an angel toshut the mouths of super-hungry lions when he’s brought into their den for breakfast.
Everything reaches its climax with the mention of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” who “endured the cross, disregarding its shame….”
As discussed before here in “The Comic Lens”, in the ancient world Jesus’ death on a cross would have been considered ridiculous more than anything else. It was fully understood and accepted in a number of religious systems that gods came to earth in human form to die and rise again, but the deaths were all truly heroic. No self-respecting god would die on a cross. This was the most disgusting and, well, stupid, way a god could try to show supposed courage and worth. Nobody but total losers – or vermin – died on a cross.
He might as well have been a raccoon….
So there you have it! The Bible’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Not at all what you’d expect. Lowlier, cleverer, stranger, more entertaining than your average superheroes for sure.
Like so much in the Bible, we invited to find true hope for our own journeys from those whose lives and accomplishments are much messier, unexpected and weird. That's because, at least from my experience and observation, that's what most of us, even as we try our best, are able to accomplish, with faith, for the Kingdom of God.
So do not despair, fellow travelers! Existence is so much more interesting, important and entertainingly bizarre (or is that bizarrely entertaining) than you think you’re being led to think. And the Bible says so!
So put on your favorite bad 70's song and dance the night away! Now that's what I call Good News!