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Jul 29

Sacrifice and the "Dark Knight"

If the world is one big high school dance, then Christians, and especially Catholics, tend to be the wallflowers, while the rest of the world dances away in the center of the gym, usually not respecting the two basketball distance which universally defines chastity.Okay, I exaggerate: there have been some Catholics who got their groove on while remaining good Catholics: St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind, and so does St. Philip Neri.(The latter was the guy who put the bucket of water over the slightly opened door so that it spilled on the principal when he made his appearance.It was all in good fun, though.)

The wallflowers sit out dance after dance with good reason, mind you.There is not much going on at half court which can be done in good conscience.The kids whispering by the foul line have mainly foul things to say.So I don’t blame the wallflowers, let’s be clear on that.

The problem is, the wallflowers have received a command from another man along the wall—the one whose crucified image in fact hangs on the wall of this gymnasium and who unfortunately has to watch the scene unfold too—a command ordering them to cut in and get people to dance to a different tune.But there is always the problem of what to say to the guy or gal whose dance you are interrupting…

There’s good news.In the gym, the dance has been postponed for a while, and the world is watching the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.”Wallflowers: you can watch this one, it’s okay, it’s not a sin.There’s better news: the movie is all about Sacrifice, and so is Christianity.Wallflowers: this is your chance, now you can go make conversation because the world is speaking your language, albeit in a slightly (but only slightly!) masked dialect.

I won’t spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it.I won’t even analyze it in any depth right now.I’ll just give you an interpretive key that will make some things fall into place.Sacrifice, if it is to be worthy of the name, must be an act which looks foolish, or even criminal to some people, while to others it looks like heroism.We often forget, or overlook, that Jesus Christ was a condemned criminal—we skip that part and get right to the Cross, which we view (rightly) as salvation, but forget that it was also punishment.Now, to those with faith, Christ was still a condemned criminal, but his trial was a miscarriage of justice, and Pilate will pay the price for it (or not, we aren’t supposed to judge).To Christians, Jesus’ life was heroic, not criminal.In fact, it was so heroic that it sounds trite to use that adjective, or any adjective.Words are universals, but Jesus’ life was so particular.

Here’s the connection to Batman.Throughout “The Dark Knight”, the Joker plays on Batman’s conscience: don’t you know, the Joker informs Batman, that most of what you do is technically illegal, and that Gotham only tolerates you because they have nothing else?Once the streets are safe, they will hold you accountable for your crimes.How will you explain what you have done in their language?

Sacrifice cannot be explained.As Kierkegaard has said, it is the absolute relation to the absolute.However, while words fail to accurately describe sacrifice, symbols and images abound which approximate the experience.The million paintings of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac come to mind, and of course, Christ on the cross is the pre-eminent example.But wallflowers: Batman is an image of the sacrificial hero too; he represents selfless outpouring which risks being seen as selfish criminality.Before they start dancing again, go tell the people whose eyes and minds are transfixed on the screen that there is a prequel to this story even more dramatic than this movie itself. It’s called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…

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