Joseph Campbell spent his entire life reading, writing, studying, and lecturing about mythology. For Campbell, mythology was much more than just stories from the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans — it embraced historical figures as well as fictitious ones. Someone asked him one time why there were so many stories of heroes in mythology and Campbell said, “Because that’s what’s worth writing about.”
And it’s true! The better part of us wants to hear about heroes. We get all the bad news we can bear and while entertainment can be a pleasant diversion, it’s fast food at best. We need something solid and substantial, something that will encourage and uplift us. We want to be inspired to live better, brighter lives. And although I am convinced that there is something heroic about incorporating Christ into our daily lives, we still have the need every now and then to rise above our routines by standing on the shoulders of heroes and looking down on what we’ve done to make sure we’re headed in the right direction. We can accept the relative smallness of our lives, if we can be assured that we are making a difference and heroes help us with that.
I think it’s helpful to look at Jesus as our Hero. While it’s true that He’s so many things (Lord, Savior, Teacher, etc.), and we do well in recognizing Him in these ways. But to see Him as our Hero enables Him to penetrate some pockets of our lives that were previously untouched. When the Hebrew writer speaks of Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter of faith,” (12:2), I think he is trying to get us to see Jesus in a hero context. He has been talking about the heroic deeds of men and women in the previous chapter. Though we are surrounded by “such a great cloud of witnesses,” (12:1) it is Jesus we are to focus upon (v. 2). He is the hero of heroes.
We need to choose our heroes carefully because they say something significant about us. Specifically, they reveal what we value and hold to be important in life. All sorts of people are paraded before us as possibilities: those who are successful in business, entertainers, athletes, politicians, and the list goes on. It can be frightening to see some of the people others have chosen as their heroes. To be in awe of someone because of tremendous physical skills, business acumen, or musical or acting talents is understandable, but it hardly qualifies them for hero status. The truth is, there are very few who might be examples for us in a certain area, and even fewer who would qualify as heroes. And none of them measure up to Christ.
I’ve overstated the above, because God does bless us with men and women who live heroically. But if we think about the people who are rightly celebrated as heroes, isn’t it because they remind us of Christ in some way? Perhaps they show courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, or patience under exasperating conditions, or consistently love the unlovely. (And does it need to be added that they don’t have to belong to Christ to worthily imitate Him in some way?). But the fact they remind us of Christ in some way is indicative of who the real hero is!
Years ago there was a song called I Need a Hero. Although it was about finding a romantic hero, some of the lyrics could work in the larger way that we are addressing.
Up where the mountains meet the heavens above, Out where the lightning splits the sea, I could swear there is someone somewhere, watching me. Through the wind and the chill and the rain and the storm and the flood I can feel his approach, like a fire in my blood.
I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero ’till the end of the night, He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast, And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight. I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero ’till the morning light, He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon, And he’s gotta be larger than life.
Learn from everyone, emulate a few, but hold out for the hero you see in Jesus!
“When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus,” (Matthew 17:8).