The following article contains spoilers. You have been warned.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series has been an exhilarating ride. Action, intrigue, and numerous moral dilemmas play out on the screen. There’s even a Christ figure that can point us toward hope in the midst of our current racial, political, and moral divide if you have the eyes to notice.
Throughout history and sprinkled in pop culture you can find Christ figures. Characters who display the attributes and actions of Christ. In the Falcon and the Winter Soldier we have a Christ figure who is very different from the ones we have grown accustomed to.The criticism and confrontation is not born out of hatred. It’s born out of love. Love for what America could be.
Sam Wilson as Captain America is the Christ figure we need in this cultural moment. Most Christ figures in stories establish themselves as such through their actions. We’re familiar with the self sacrifice of Gandalf and Aslan. We can even see the heroic feats of Superman and even the death of Iron Man in the Avengers: End Game in a similar vein.
Here’s where Sam Wilson as the new Captain America becomes a Christ figure. It’s not his actions but it’s his thinking. He thinks like Jesus.
Jesus had a particular way of thinking and it has been lost on many in the church today. His way of thinking was nonpartisan and was categorically different from either/or and even both/and thinking. He looked at life and communicated different options, better options than the usual.
A Different Way of Thinking
In one of the final scenes (spoiler alert) after everything goes down and Sam brings Karli Morgenthau’s body to the authorities, he confronts the different world leaders on their plans to resettle refugees. He challenges them to think of a better way. The world leaders can only think of resettling the refugees or letting them stay where they are.
In other words somebody’s got to lose. Sam challenges them to be empathetic and understand where the refugees are coming from. He calls them to get in the other person’s shoes.
He also invites them to think of other options. If you look at the gospels, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day often tried to corner him and force him to land on one side or the other. The problem is Jesus never lands on one side because he sees the whole picture.
For instance in John 8 the religious leaders try to trap him and force him to either condemn the woman caught in adultery or let her off. Jesus does neither. He offers forgiveness and compassion and also admonishes her to “sin no more” (John 8:1-11). Jesus’ command to love your enemies is also one where he chose a third option. In Roman occupied Palestine he could have either promoted siding with the enemy like the Sadducees or overthrowing the conquerors like the Zealots. Instead, Jesus promotes resistance through love (Matthew 5:43-44).
The new Captain America, while not offering solutions causes them to broaden their perspective.
It’s similar to Joshua’s encounter with the angel of the Lord in Joshua 5:
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord[e] have for his servant?”
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
The angel of the Lord says I’m not on your side and I’m not on the side of your enemies. I have the whole picture. You only have part of it. (Joshua 5:13-15).
This is the kind of Jesus thinking Sam Wilson shows in engaging the resettlement issue. It’s the kind of thinking we need. We need to look at the whole picture and not just the part that affects us when it comes to any number of social, moral, and political issues like abortion, immigration, and police brutality.We need to look at the whole picture and not just the part that affects us when it comes to any number of social, moral, and political issues …
Jesus was not an us vs them kind of thinker. He painted a broader picture and saw a third option where other people saw a yes or no. This is what makes Sam Wilson a Christ figure. He’s an example of how to approach the ethical, moral, and social issues of our time within a culture that tries to force us to be partisan.
Taking on Our Sin
Another way Sam Wilson is a new type of Christ figure is how he takes on the mantle of Captain America. In a new world where everyone is no longer naive to the sins of the United States, Sam takes up the shield of a country whose moral record is less than stellar. In essence he takes on the flag of America and the past record of wrongs that come along with it in hopes of redeeming it.
His line about being a black man and Captain America shows the paradox of a black man wearing the stars and stripes. He wears them not to be a symbol of America’s perfection and moral purity. He wears them to redeem them.
It’s similar to Jesus, the one who knew no sin who became sin so we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
This is what it means to be black in America (minus the sinlessness) and still committed to the ideals of this nation while at the same time critiquing the nation. To take on the sin of this nation and say “I’m an American” while at the same time challenging this nation to live according to its ideals.
The criticism and confrontation is not born out of hatred. It’s born out of love. Love for what America could be.
The same thing can be said for Jesus. He took on our sin because he envisioned what we could be. He took on our sin because as much as hope was lost on our side humanity was still a worthwhile project. And because we are worth it he presses us to find ways to do better.
Knowing this I can’t wait to see what happens in the next phase of Captain America with Sam Wilson wearing the stars and stripes.