I think Jesus might have liked Diana, Princess of Themyscira (aka, Wonder Woman).
Yes, I know that some of Jesus’ followers today might have trouble with Diana’s origins attributed to the Greek god Zeus, with her growing up on an island totally inhabited and ruled by women, with her love affair with American fighter pilot Steve Trevor.
And yes, I know that some of Jesus’ other followers today might have trouble with Diana not seeming to have ever heard of the notion of loving your enemies instead of killing them.
What caught my attention in the current mega-hit Wonder Woman movie, though, were some embedded theological themes that I think those of us who follow Jesus in 2017 might do well to ponder a bit.
Let’s start with the obvious one. Diana is a strong female hero in an era that has not seen enough of those. That’s what really gave this movie its juice. Jesus seemed pretty comfortable with strong women in an era when guys were expected to dominate the house, the marketplace, the synagogue, the government.
Jesus’ mother was no shrinking violent. “Do what he tells you,” she orders the wait staff at the wedding in Cana. Mary Magdalene was not afraid to mix it up with the apostles. Jesus told stories of a woman facing down a judge, he went outside his comfort zone to heal a woman who was pestering him, he defended a woman accused of adultery and a woman who crashed a dinner at a religious leader’s house so she could wash his feet. And then women like Lydia and Aquila and Prisca had leadership roles among the early Christians.
But there is so much more. (And I’ll be careful with spoilers here, although the themes may suggest a bit of the outcome. But, then, you do know that Diana wins in the end, right?)
One theme is an exploration of the cause of evil. Diana is certain that the cause of war is the Greek god Ares, the rebellious son of Zeus. When she learns that the world is at war (in World War I), she takes on the mission of finding and killing Ares in the hope of bringing peace back to earth.
When she finally confronts the person she believes is Ares and kills him, she is stunned to hear the battles continuing.
“I killed him, but nothing stopped,” she says in disbelief.
“Maybe people aren’t always good,” her soldier companion Steve tells her. Or as Cassius put it in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
but in ourselves.”
Jesus was raised on the stories of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, Cain killing Abel, the people of Noah’s time turning their backs on God’s ways, the Israelites rebelling in the desert, David having Uriah killed to mask David’s rape of Uriah’s wife and on and on. People have long struggled with the evil that dwells within each of us. Killing the god of war does not put an end to the flaws of humanity.
But we are more than our flaws. And Diana discovers that as well.
The message she heard from her mother as a child and then from the personification of Ares is that the rebellious god thought that humanity behaved so badly it did not deserve the opportunity to survive.
As Diana watches Steve and his eclectic and imperfect band of friends risk their lives to save the lives of others, she begins to see the complexity of humanity. She hears the personification of Ares say of the war raging around them, “Mankind did this, not me. They do not deserve to live.” But Diana draws on her new insight: “They are everything you say, but they are so much more…It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.”
Jesus, who was all about offering second chances and spreading the news of God’s grace triumphing over rote observance of the law, could not have said it better. That’s the heart of why I think Jesus might have been a fan of Wonder Woman.
And then there are the lines that bracketed the movie.
It opens with Diana at her desk, musing, “I used to want to save the world,” but then she ponders what one does when “the truth is more difficult that you thought.” At then end, she has an answer: “Only love can save the world.”
Or as John wrote of Jesus, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
Jesus knew about the risks of love, of risking your life on behalf of others. He knew that saving the world meant saving the people in it. He knew that humans are complicated, truth can be difficult and that love does indeed over come hate, that life does win out over death.
I think Jesus would have liked Diana, Princess of Themyscira (aka, Wonder Woman).