Servants Not Heroes (June 2, 2009)
The death of Christopher Reeves, aka “Superman,” dramatizes an important contrast between heroes and servants in our public life. He gained fame as a Hollywood action superhero, but died confined to a wheelchair as an international servant for the physically challenged. In which role- hero or servant- did he do more good?
Every culture has heroes- screen heroes, political heroes, church heroes, industry heroes, even family heroes. In my family, as I was going off to college, our hero was Ernie Di Gregorio, a star basketball player for Providence College. I remember pouring over a long newspaper article about his heroism on the court. The point was that I was supposed to be a hero (in a different game) just like him in college. In retrospect, I think I would have been more blessed having been sent off with the message to be a Christian servant of the team rather than a hero.
We think we can’t live without heroes and their stories. Heroes distract us from what we consider our more mundane life. They provide temporary hope for our future. But the logic of heroism is always the logic of Greek tragedy, from where the concept comes, rather than faith and service day after day, which comes from the God of Israel and the scriptures. Heroes all have hidden, if not fatal flaws, and all go astray in the end. The drama gets juicier as their fatal flaws are exposed. This is the storyline from sports and steroids to politics and sex-money, to church heroes gone bad. Heroes end in tragedy. This the logic of mere flesh and blood.
In our modern day the hero theme has morphed into the anti-hero theme, the ‘we love our rogues’ type of idea, which ends up no better, and is not so readily accepted anymore. Here we have John Updike’s Harry Angstrom, “Rabbit Run” the middle aging high school basketball hero runs from marriage to adultery to keep his youthful heroism alive. Think Hollywood’s James Dean, The "Rebel without a Cause," dying young. And then we had David Stockman, the hero of Reaganomics, or the Washington anti-hero, who becomes the goat or semi-goat of the autoparts business.
Think back to John and Bobby Kennedy. Heroes or servants? I’d like to think they died as servants rather than tragic heroes. Think now -the 2008 presidential election. Any servants here? I hope so. But surely each has a heroic storyline scripted for us and by us based on who “can get this country back on the right track.” One of these heroes just might be able to save us!
Forgive me if I’m a bit tired of the heroism storyline. And thank God there is a way out of heroic tragedy. And Christ showed it. It’s by faith and serving others rather than our own egos. He did not allow himself to be a military, or political hero. As a good student of the Hebrew scriptures he knew that heroism was a foreign, a Greek concept, whereas faith and service and redemption was God’s concept for all humanity.
Christ knew the example of Moses, who failed to enter the promised land on his own strength- rather than by faith and service to God and God’s people. In contrast Jesus never let the hoopla of public life go to his head. The attention didn’t always have to be on him. In fact, he always deflected the praise of himself to His father. And often said “I am merely saying and doing here on earth what he wants in heaven.”
Christians Are Servants Not Heroes (June 2, 2009)
Oh the logic of faith and service is way better than the logic of heroism. “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve.” I didn’t come to be hero and die in tragedy. I came to serve, come what may. Faith and service always lead to redemption, the state of being free from the laws of sin and death, which heroism suggests, but can't provide.
Christ’s interaction with the “rich young man” is also revealing about the blessing of service in contrast to heroics. This young man approaches Jesus to curry his favor, and make Jesus a hero. He uses flattery- “oh good master.” Jesus isn’t buying it: “only God is good.” "Sell all you have and follow me", in other words, "serve like me."
Jesus’ message to the rich young man was to make clear that service to others, spending oneself wholeheartedly is more important than making a hero out of yourself.
I guess I’ve learned that it’s time to let go once and for all to the hero model of leadership and adopt the servant model. Thank you Christopher Reeves for demonstrating that to us. Hero worship and false heroism should be a young man’s mistake in all our public institutions. But it isn’t.
Perhaps it’s easier to cling to heroes in public life, in our churches, and politics and families and business, and dispose of them when their flesh and blood humanity is seen, than to spend ourselves and become servant leaders. Thus, the endless, tragic, and now boring storyline, of heroism continues. But the logic of Christ tells us we can escape this tragedy by faith and service. By the redemptive life that comes from all out service. This would be a sweet smelling offering to the Lord. And the people say “More servants, less heroes, Please!"
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...