“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Who is your enemy? Now maybe you’re saintly enough that your response to that question is some version of, “I don’t have any enemies.” Granting that, who comes closest to that status for you? If you’re at all like a growing segment of our society, the answer just may be the people on the other side of the political aisle. In our hyper-partisan times, political rivals are among the most bitter enemies we have. The latest entry from Marvel Studios offers an important counterpoint to this decidedly unhealthy trend. Let’s talk today about Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
I am a political conservative. If you have been reading these posts for very long, you’ve probably already guessed that. I am also a bit of a political junkie. I keep up fairly closely with what’s happening in the world of politics. One of the ways I do this is by subscribing to a variety of political newsletters. I try to read from a fairly broad perspective, but I nonetheless trend fairly conservative. The other day, I saw a headline in one of the newsletters I get but don’t read very closely anymore that said this: “Help us destroy Joe Biden.”
While there was perhaps a time in my life that I would have cheered such a call to arms as was the headline-writer’s goal, my reaction to it now was actually an audible, “No.” Now, make no mistake, he’s not the candidate I voted for. I think his vision for society, to say nothing of his policy aims, are generally awful and will cause far more harm to our nation than good. But to call for his destruction (even only politically)? By no means!
Enter Marvel’s latest continuation of the cinematic story they began telling thirteen years ago and whose last two entries have come on the small screen, not the silver one. As far as Marvel fare goes, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is pretty standard. By that, I mean it was terrific at almost every point. The writing, directing, acting, production values, and the like were all just exactly what Marvel fans have come to expect them to be. Now, I didn’t like everything they did. The direction they took one of the main characters left me deeply disappointed. But, they’ve more than earned my giving them the benefit of the doubt.
The story follows the two titular character as they wrestle with life after the Blip (what the world has taken to calling Thanos’ infamous snap which erased half the life in the universe for five years) and how to properly honor the memory and legacy of Captain America and especially his famous shield. Of course, this is Marvel, so there’s plenty of super powers, action, and intrigue.
The primary plot centers around their efforts to find and stop a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers. These radicalized young people are upset with the way the governments of the world have handled reintroducing the half of the planet’s population who got snapped out of existence now that they have come back. Also, they’ve managed to somehow get their hands on the same super soldier serum that gave Captain America his powers.
There’s a tension (hilariously skewered by Ryan George’s YouTube Pitch Meeting about the series) between the fact that this group is a violent terrorist organization deserving of justice and the Falcon’s constant attempts to humanize, understand, and help them find a peaceful solution to achieving their goals. It works within the context of the show as long as you don’t think about it very hard. Of course, it is a superhero show so thinking about it very hard probably isn’t wise anyway.
In the end, the young woman leading the Flag Smashers is killed (and if that spoiled anything for you, you need to watch more superhero fare) in spite of Falcon’s attempts to prevent that and get through to her. In a touching final scene, he carries her lifeless body back to the authorities so she can have a proper burial.
Now, again, there are several logical problems and the show gets pretty preachy in the final few scenes, but something here really caught my attention, especially in light of the headline I saw the other day calling for President Biden’s destruction. What the Falcon understood is something we don’t often understand very well today. Our primary enemy is not another person. Ever. Our enemies are bad ideas and the spiritual darkness that often motivates them.
Never mind for the moment the obvious problems with the writers’ attempts to somehow justify the murderously violent means the Flag Smashers consistently used to achieve their desired ends (which is a textbook definition of terrorism), if we let ourselves identify any other person as our enemy, no matter how morally reprehensible their actions may be, we have ceased to follow the path of Jesus on at least that issue. What Falcon demonstrates toward the villain is a consistent application of the love of Jesus. We would do well to take note and follow suit.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made clear that when someone carries the label “enemy” in our mind, there is only one posture we can have toward that person if we want to live in a manner consistent with the ethic of the kingdom of God. Paul reminds us of the same thing here in a slightly different way. People are never our enemies. That’s not how God’s kingdom works. His kingdom calls us to something else. And just in case this isn’t clear, it’s not destruction.
Instead, we are called to love our enemies. Now, this doesn’t mean we somehow justify or otherwise excuse their sinful behaviors. It may mean we put in place firm boundaries to prevent them from hurting us and the people around us. It may mean we have to stand against them in public and to do so vigorously. But it also means that we consistently work for their good in everything we do toward them…just like Jesus does for us.
The moment we set out another person as our chief enemy in our mind, we find ourselves in the awkward position of hating someone made in the image of God even as we are and for whom Christ died. The simple truth is that if Jesus died for them, we don’t have any business hating them. Instead, we love them like he does. We work consistently and intentionally to see them come into a relationship with Jesus. If they’re already there, we remember that what unites us as co-members of the family of God is far greater than anything which might divide us.
Personally, some of my greatest friends in the world hold political views that are night and day different from my own. But they are my brother and sister in Christ and I love them with all my heart. My life would be infinitely poorer without them in it. I’m glad every day I get to call them friends. If I thought of them as enemies—as the culture around us argues every day that I should—I would be the loser for it and so would the kingdom of God. I don’t often say you should follow my example on anything, but in this case, you should follow my example as I follow Jesus’ example. Rest assured, you’ll be glad you did.