I was reading the very first pages of Martin Hengel’s book Studies in Early Christianity for Christology class, and all I could think of were the aliens from the movie Toy Story. The hypnosis of the aliens regarding the claw, seems comical. They cannot see past it. It is the claw that chooses, rather than Sid, the human operator, playing the game in an arcade. I suppose their world is simpler if they just stick to the claw as being in control. Is this not how we often approach God, a faceless master of sorts?
I thought of Toy Story because, for the alien toys, the claw is their “master” and somehow determines “who will go and who will stay.” Christ, on the other hand, might more appropriately be confused for a slave than a master. In fact, on the second page of his book, Hengel points out that the title “Christ,” was so unusual that non-Jews confused it for a common slave name. It was virtually a meaningless title for a person, translating to “he who has been smeared.”1 Jesus showed this by his actions, having put himself in the role of a slave at table with the foot-washing of John 13.
Changing the title “Christ” into a name, Christians, in a brief period, according to Hengel, “usurped it for the exclusive use of their Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.” What is more, Christ did not see his chosen-ness as a point of separation, a reason to distinguish himself from others. Instead, Christ “sacrificed his life ‘for the many’, that is, for all. In short, Woody gets it. Rather than stand idly by and allow another to fall or rise into certain danger, Woody gets involved himself in the mess holding on for dear life.
Being chosen by Christ is not some Toy Story claw. It meant that not only are we to follow him, but that we would need to bring others along the way. There is the “no touch” mentality and theology of the aliens from Toy Story, who try to keep Woody from saving Buzz since he was “chosen.”. On the other hand, there is Woody’s Gospel theology, exhibited in his own self-sacrifice. Catholicism is, after all, a missionary religion. Buzz Lightyear does not have a clue, and Woody does not have any choice but to help.
How wonderfully convenient and tempting it might be to wall our “chosen” selves off from others, like the alien the claw “chooses.” Such a tactic would be more conceited than Christian. Being touched by Jesus has never meant being part of an elite club, closed to others, but rather an opportunity and charge to share what one has been given with others.
Certainly the Gospels provide no shortage of ways and examples that Christ was inclusive, disregarding customs of the day to allow others to approach him and to be healed, or forgiven, as if those two are any different. Woody, after all, follows on the heel(s) of Buzz, not because he is leading the way, but because that is what The Way required of him in that instance. I suppose through his service to another, Woody is living a sort of suscipe of his own.
Now that Christ indeed has come, might we not do well to more closely follow his example in the months ahead? Might there be opportunities in your own life to be more like Woody, throwing yourself in, and less like the aliens, distancing themselves?
Who might you be in need of forgiveness from, and who might you need to forgive? “Forgiveness is, above all, a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the instinct to pay back evil with evil.” 2 That is to say, it is not logical, but follows instead the loving “logic” of the father of the Prodigal Son, who is, in fact, our father. Woody’s split-second decision, perhaps, cannot be taught; it comes from the heart. Our charge is not so much to treat people the way they treat us – if that were the case Buzz Lightyear would not stand a chance – but the way that God treats us, a God who is all-merciful, all-loving, and with great compassion. A big heart indeed. This means that if we truly believe this we cannot pray the Our Father the same way again. We cannot pray it while holding grudges, lest our words become hollow. For “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
I suppose we ought to be less like the aliens, and more like Woody, who chooses to sacrifice his own comfort and safety to help another, as difficult as he may prove. We are not helpless beings in service to the claw. Instead, we have the free will and agency to effect change, despite what the aliens in our own lives think. Perhaps we all have certain “Buzz Lightyears” in our own lives – hard-headed, even conceited, friends and family members that are no less worthy than we are of God’s loving, tender care, as so our own loving, tender care.
Photo by Zakaria Ahada on Unsplash.