Legendary

I have to ask a question... As I’ve said before, I love English class, but when exactly did the world stop writing good books? Everything I have read for school in the last three or four years is at least fifty years older than I am. The most modern title I have be assigned is J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye (which I agree is a classic, but it was written in 1951.)
We just finished reading Beowulf in English class. Beowulf is the oldest known text written in the English language. It estimated that the story was first written around 1,200 years ago. Twelve hundred years ago! Yet Beowulf has been part of high school English curriculums for decades, almost centuries. For some reason, it is still one of the most widely read legends in human history.

And why is that? What about this simple story has made it so appealing? The plot is fairly basic: Beowulf is a warrior who travels from his homeland in Geatland to help King Hrothgar of Daneland defeat the monster Grendel and later Grendel’s mother. Fifty years later when Beowulf himself is king, a dragon attacks his kingdom and Beowulf prepares to fight it. This time however, Beowulf is killed in battle.

Let me side track for just a minute and look at a more recent event in history. In 1982, a Boeing 737 collided into the 14th Street Bridge in Washington D.C. before crashing into the Potomac River. Helicopters were the only way to rescue the drowning victims in the river. Six people aboard the plane survived the initial crash. They were huddled together on detached parts of the plane.

The helicopter pilots, Donald Usher and Eugene Windsor, have told of the events as they attempted to rescue the six surviving victims. They lowered the rope to one man who took it and gave it to another. After pulling him up, they left and came back and again lowered the rope to this man who again passed it on. After making a few trips, they came back to pick up the remaining man who had been passing the rope. But by the time they returned, he had slipped below the water and drowned.

This incident gained national attention. Not because the crash was truly horrific, or for any scandalous or monetary issues, but because of this man. He became known as “the man in the water.” He became a national hero.

Our culture loves heroes. When Spider Man 3 opened, one in three people saw it opening weekend. If we have a population of 300 million that means 100 million people saw Spider Man 3 opening weekend. We’re attracted to heroes. We like the idea of someone saving us.
But there’s something about heroes like “the man in the water” that makes them different. Journalist Roger Rosenblatt quoted that, “at some moment in the water he must have realized that he would not live if he continued to hand over the rope to others…when the helicopter took off with what was to be the last survivor, he watched everything in the world move away from him, and he deliberately let it happen.” He deliberately chose to pass the rope knowing that he would die.

That is what makes a hero: the deliberate act of sacrificing yourself for the salvation of another. That is the underlying message of Beowulf. Beowulf sacrifices himself, he leaves his country and eventually gives his life to save his followers.

But this hero idea carries a little deeper. With the Spider Man statistics showing our countries godlike worship of heroes, it brings up an interesting connection. A hero is someone who sacrifices his life for another. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a biblical reference to me.

We often refer to Jesus as our savior, but he’s also our hero. He had countless opportunities to renounce all that he had said, agree that Caesar was lord, and walk out a free man. But he didn’t. He deliberately passed the rope and chose the cross. He sacrificed everything to give us everything.

And Jesus calls us to be heroes too. His greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as I have loved you.” It’s not love your neighbor as yourself. It’s as “I have loved you.” As God has loved you. And God loved you enough to deliberately sacrifice everything for you.
Can you do that for your neighbor?

World renowned author and psychologist Joseph Campbell believed that every heroic story was the same. An average person, who makes a sacrifice, and by choosing save another person becomes a hero. Campbell believed this was why people love heroes: because a hero can make the choice and the sacrifice and show that perfect love to their neighbors. An article I read for school put it this way: “Everyone feels the possibility inside himself. It turns out the hero’s burden is something we all share.”

We are all called to make love filled sacrifices for one another. Campbell and other authors believe we have the potential and even the desire to do it. And that’s why people are so fascinated with Beowulf. Because in an epic story like Beowulf, the hero makes the sacrifice we are sometimes afraid to make. The hero does what we are called to do and what we wish we could do. The hero saves the world.

We all need a hero, but we already have one.

So today, may you know that you have a God who loves you more than you will ever know, who will forgive you no matter what you’ve done, and who will do everything he can to save you. Amen.

Zach Herzog

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