Digging in Deeper: Matthew 22:37-40

“He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Confession time: I’m not much for trying new things. New things bring the possibility of failure, and I’m not much for failure. I’m more of a habit and routine guy. Once I find something that works – which, admittedly requires trying new things at least occasionally – you’re going to find me generally pretty difficult to break from it to try something else. Of course, new things also bring the possibility of experiencing success you wouldn’t otherwise experience. On the whole, it can pay big to step out and try something new. Let’s talk this morning about the latest new thing from Marvel Studios: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

Credit Marvel Studios for being willing to step out and take risks. Their various releases over the years have spawned from a ton of different genres. Sure, they’ve all basically been superhero action films, but generally speaking, no two of them are the same. With the release of Disney+ a couple of years ago, they have gotten even more creative in terms of the kinds of shows they are producing. Just next week they are releasing a Halloween special called, Werewolf by Night, that looks to be out of the classic monster movie genre. Be looking for a review of that one in the next couple of weeks. The most recent offering is also of genre they haven’t ever touched before. She-Hulk is a half-hour lawyer-based sitcom. And…it sort of works.

Although She-Hulk’s origin in the comics is fairly well-known (Jenny Walters was gravely wounded and received a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner – aka the Hulk – which also transformed her), they varied things up a bit for her introduction into the MCU. She and Bruce are in a car accident when a ship from Sakar (the planet where, as the Hulk, Bruce disappeared to when he flew off in a quinjet at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and to which he has now returned for a future Planet Hulk movie) suddenly appears in front of them on the road, and when they were both crawling out of the car, she accidentally gets a bit of his blood on her own open wound. Basically, that allowed them a way to only have to pay Mark Ruffalo for one episode and still fit things into their 30 minutes timeline.

The main series, then, has been about Jenn adopting to life with the ability to transform into a hulk who maintains all of her personality and intelligence unlike her more monstrous cousin. The ongoing conflict has been that while Jenn is a talented, but otherwise fairly unremarkable lawyer who is single and unable to do much to change that, as She-Hulk she stands out as the personal everyone loves and wants to have around…including guys. And that’s basically been the series after seven of nine episodes. Yes, they have been slowly building the “real” Marvel subplot of some shadowy group who is trying to get her blood to use for some heretofore unrevealed nefarious purpose, but that has been mostly developed in closing tag and post-credit scenes. So far, other than it’s clearly existing in the MCU, it hasn’t had any meaningful connection to any other Marvel property thus far except the forthcoming Daredevil series on Disney+ with which they have been steadily dragging fans along by not yet including the moment his character appears in the series as indicated by a clip from the trailer. I suspect that won’t happen until the final episode, and will really only serve as a setup for the Daredevil series and the second season of She-Hulk. We’ll see.

From a review standpoint, the series has taken several episodes to hit its stride. I think the reason for this is that it has been just so different from anything else they’ve done. I finished watching a few of the earlier episodes decidedly unimpressed. I have kept waiting for that big Marvel moment and it hasn’t ever come. It’s just been funny. And it really has been funny. The comedy throughout has been pretty on point. It has been fairly self-conscious in its humor as well. It is the first MCU series that regularly breaks the fourth wall with Jenn pausing in mid-scene to talk directly to the audience to offer editorial comments on the unfolding events. The fourth coming Deadpool 3, which will officially be in the MCU and has now promised the return of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine causing the internet to break this past week, will lean even harder in that direction, but that’ll be another story altogether. The trick to enjoying this series, I am learning, is to take it on its own terms. As I have finally started doing that, I am enjoying it a lot more than I was at first.

And yet, without that big Marvel moment, the series has been mostly empty and shallow. Now, I fully anticipate that moment is coming. This is Marvel after all. And it will probably span the final two episodes as episode 7 from yesterday wrapped up the primary tension point of the series, namely, Jenn coming to grips with her superhero abilities with the hilarious help of Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination, and a group of other wonderfully obscure Marvel characters all participating in a group therapy retreat. This reconciliation moment is actually the thing that most caught my attention and prompted this morning’s review. The series so far has mostly been about Jenn learning to love herself; all of herself.

This whole theme reflects Marvel’s being rather unfortunately situated squarely in the midst of our modern culture where learning to love and accept who you are is the solution to basically every problem we might face as individuals. The idea feels really good and sells really well, but as both a source and end in itself, it is completely empty, devoid of any real substance. I am not saying or trying to imply that we shouldn’t love ourselves. We should. The Scriptures are clear on that much. What I am saying is that loving ourselves has to have a context or it isn’t ultimately going to do anything for us.

In Jesus’ day, one of the regular debates people had was over which command was the most important one in the law. In a day when everyone saw the world through a lens of righteousness-by-way-of-legalism, answering that question gave people the ability to feel like they were mostly keeping the law while allowing them to excuse their failing on certain points because at least those weren’t the most important laws to keep. As popular as that debate was, it is no surprise that Jesus was eventually asked for His thoughts on the matter. He famously replied by offering up two of the commands for the price of one. Love God fully, and love others as yourself. If you get those two things right, Jesus said, you’ll get the rest right as well.

Now, you can’t miss the fact that loving yourself is part of the equation there. But unlike the place our culture gives it, loving yourself is assumed and serves as part of the means by which we can effectively love others. In other words, loving yourself provides context and isn’t an end in itself. More than that, though, loving ourselves and others are both subsequent to the more important thing which is to love God. Loving God is the end goal. All the other loves we might experience or express are functions of that higher love if they are going to be ordered rightly. Without the foundation of loving God, all other loves become something less than love. They usually become something subtly sinister that causes far more harm to our lives than anything good. Disconnected from their proper source, they become expressions and magnifications of our own wants and desires which are fundamentally disordered apart from God’s righteousness. In other words, if loving yourself is your only goal, you’re not just missing the boat, you’re missing the whole ocean.

The reason for this is that love is directional. At least, healthy love is directional. Love goes somewhere. It is always meant to flow through and not merely into. More specifically, when we are getting things right, love flows from God, through us, and out toward the people around us, who themselves pass it along to the people around them. In this way, love is always moving. When we dam up this flow by focusing our attention on only loving ourselves, we interrupt the whole system and cause all sorts of problems. Like water sitting in a container for too long grows stagnant and eventually deadly, love that is poured only into ourselves quickly becomes stagnant and disordered. It will ultimately do us more harm than good.

If you want your relationship with yourself to be the healthy, full, and rich thing the world around us tells us it should be – the thing Jenn is seeking throughout the She-Hulk series so far – the worst thing you can do is to focus all your attention on yourself. You have to view yourself rightly which you will only be able to do when you view yourself through the same lens God uses to view you. And you can only do that, when you focus your attention on loving Him first. Get your love of God right and everything else will fall into place. If Jenn could have accomplished that in this series, she would have been doing something truly powerful. Unfortunately, by stopping short with just loving herself, as much as the writers might want us to believe otherwise, she’s not going to experience any of the benefits she thinks she’s found. Stick with Jesus’ example, not Jenn’s, and you’ll find a path to fulfillment that actually leaves you full.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.