Last night, we watched Thor: Ragnarok with Elijah, who is working his way (and ours) through the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is easily the most humorous of the films in the MCU so far. In any case, the Norse myths are hugely entertaining, and lend themselves well to retelling—we loved New Zealand’s contemporary tv adaptation, The Almighty Johnsons.
At one point, Thor, god of thunder, is thrown into a cosmic rubbish dump, and must escape from a nightmarish dystopia where enslaved champions are forced to fight one another, in order to return home to Asgard and defeat his sister, Hela, goddess of death.
When Thor finally confronts Hela, she gouges out one of his eyes. Near death, he sees his father, the one-eyed Odin, in a vision. Odin remarks that Thor never really saw very well when he had two eyes. (This would make more sense if Marvel had stuck with the traditional back-story of Odin sacrificing an eye in exchange for wisdom, and from then on seeing more clearly with one eye than he had done with two; rather than account for it as a battle-wound.)
In the Gospel reading set for Morning Prayer today, Mark 9:38-50, Jesus says that it is better to cut off your hand or foot or tear out your eye and to enter life in the kingdom of God maimed, than, with both hands, feet, and eyes, to be thrown onto the hellish rubbish dump.
The context is one of infighting between the disciples (Mark 9:33-37) and John’s attempt to win approval by informing Jesus that they had come across an outsider casting out demons in Jesus’ name and had told him to stop, because he wasn’t one of them.
Jesus’ response is uncompromising. You’re better off thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to your neck than you are preventing other people from ushering-in life in greater fullness.
The self-mutilation is hyperbole. And the hell is not some post-mortem punishment, but rooted in this life. Gehenna was Jerusalem’s rubbish dump, where refuse was burned, and where, when Jerusalem had fallen to armies in the past, the corpses of her fallen citizens were burned (this would happen again, at the hands of the Roman army, in AD70).
Essentially, Jesus’ teaching here is that we must live in peace with one another, and ruthlessly cut off at source any temptation to believe ourselves to be superior to others, or else we will find ourselves presiding over a wasteland. Better to compromise your vision than to have it intact, but be kings of the trash-heap.
This speaks to our political situation here in the UK, where we see competing ideologies fight to the death to rule over a nation reduced to rubble by their fighting. Better to compromise in order to work together.
And it speaks to our global environmental crisis, where westerners are unprepared to sacrifice their unprecedented collective privilege, prefering to be kings and queens of a wasted planet than work together for our shared home.
Thank God for those who seek to build common platforms, and imagine a new world. May God strengthen the resolve of the UN, in the face of many distractions.