You may have noticed, that superhero movies dominate the blockbuster movie business. Whether from the Marvel or the DC comic universe, each year pumps out multiple movies based on superheroes from comic books. There’s superman, spiderman, batman, Iron Man — lots of men, apparently. Thankfully we’re also seeing the rise of female superheroes, like Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel.
And while you may not have ever been asked the question, I would imagine most people of my generation have been asked: If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Would it be flight, or the ability to read people’s minds? Would it be the power to move things with your mind, or do the Jedi Mind Trick? “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Why are superheroes so popular? Part of it has to do with their fantasy-based twist on real life themes. Many of them originated in a way that connects with history – Superman was an immigrant, just as the men who created him were Jewish immigrants to the United States due to conflict in Europe in the 30s and 40s. In the 40s, Superman and others supported the war efforts and told readers to buy war bonds. In the 50s and 60s they were fighting the Communists. And in time, their powers have grown and changed and improved as their narratives developed.
Superheroes continue to be so popular because, first of all, because, to quote an online author, “In times of trouble, people tend to wish for someone who is bigger than them to help them. Superheroes are strong, tough, and can kick some serious butt. They are always fighting the “bad guys” whether that be the Nazis or aliens. They help people. They make sure they stand up for the common man. And ultimately, they save people.”
But not only that, I believe their popularity stems from the sense we want to be like them. We want to be able to do what they do. To reach outside of ourselves, to be bigger than we are, to be stronger, more capable, better versions of ourselves. To do the extraordinary, because at the core we find ourselves too ordinary, too incapable. But if anything, our Scriptures show us that God does not appear to extraordinary people.
God does not call extraordinary people, but God does call upon ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of God.
Peter, for example, was by no means an extraordinary person. When Jesus meets him, he is working with his father as a fisherman, alongside his brother Andrew, and also James and John. That is an important fact. It shows just how ordinary Peter was. Like most all Jewish boys and girls at the time, he was likely well-versed in the Torah, having committed much of it to memory. And for only a select few of the brightest and best learners, they would be selected for further instruction and learning to become a rabbi themselves. These children would be invited to become a rabbi’s apprentice, and to continue to study with that person and follow them in all they did.
When Jesus met Peter, he wasn’t one of these select few. He wasn’t studying and being taught in the Scriptures. He wasn’t a disciple of a rabbi. He was working, like the vast masses of men who were never selected to continue their studies under a rabbi, but instead went to work and to live a normal, ordinary life.
Until he met Jesus.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus meets Peter at the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and as the crowd presses in on Jesus, he gets into Peter’s boat and has him push the boat out a little ways off the shore. This is apparently because the sound of Jesus’ voice would carry better over the water due to the effect it has on acoustics versus speaking over solid land. But then, after addressing the crowd, Jesus tells Peter and those working with him to go further into deep water and let down their nets, which when they do so they make the miraculous catch of so many fish.
Peter, then, has the most curious of responses to this. He turns to Jesus and tells him to go away. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He can’t bear to think of his unworthiness in the presence of this Holy Man who is there in the boat with him.
But perhaps it’s not so curious. It is the same response that Isaiah had when he encountered the Almighty God in a vision. Upon seeing the Lord and hearing the angels calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,” Isaiah bewails that he is a man of unclean lips, that he is a sinful man, and his eyes have seen the Lord.
And in both circumstances, after both men have seen the greatness of God and lamented their sinfulness before a great and holy God, God then calls both to serve him.
Isaiah, the man of unclean lips, is called to be a prophet speaking the very words of God. And Peter, the sinner and the fisherman, is called to leave his nets to follow Jesus of Nazareth. And not only them, but also Paul, the fierce persecutor of the Church, became one of its foremost Apostles and missionaries. They were ordinary people, who were called to do the extraordinary work of God.
And that’s where we find ourselves. That this same God is calling you and me, appallingly ordinary people, to do the work of God in this world. To worship, to pray, to bring peace and justice to all the world, to care for the poor and the broken-hearted. And we find that God does not need us to be extraordinary, but to be faithful. Like the Apostle Paul, who chalked it up to the grace of God, and the kindness and goodness of God, to make use of his ordinariness and to overcome his shortcomings.
And that is the grace of God, to accept us and to use us, just the way that we are, as servants in the Kingdom of God, to share that same hope and love, and to bring healing and restoration to the world.