Luke Cage: The Cost Of Being A Hero
Updated: Jan 22
I've said it before and I stand by it — Netflix has truly done well with the Marvel Universe. Superhero TV has blown up in recent years. CW get a lot of credit for that. Fox has done surprising things with Gotham, and while ABC is limping along, Netflix continues to raise the bar show by show. Luke cage being a great series was no surprise. My Luke Cage knowledge was admittedly limited. Most of what I knew of him was from the comic series "Secret Avengers" in the wake of Marvel's original Civil War storyline, but in many ways I was going in pretty blind on the character. Many of my friends finished the series long before I did (my wife and I watch these shows together and our schedules are bananas), plus there was a big stink among certain groups over the lack of diversity in the cast, so I heard a lot about it before I ever made it in, but I think it was really worth the wait.
One of the recurring themes throughout the series is Luke avoiding the notion of being a Hero. He has his reasons for not embracing the title, mainly because of shame of his past, fear of being caught, the guilt of his actions, and the overall attention that something like that brings. He was happy just keeping his head down and avoiding not only heroics, but also responsibility. I don’t blame the guy. To go from preacher's kid, to serving and protecting, to wrongfully accused, imprisoned, forced to brutally destroy people in combat, experimented on, fall in love, and then have the woman you love be super punched to death by your future sort-of girlfriend, then be manipulated by a super villain, all before your current sort-of girlfriend shoots you in the grill with a shotgun…
Yeah, to live that life, I'd wash dishes, sweep floors, and keep my head down, too. The problem is, just like Luke, keeping our heads down isn't what we were meant for. Sure, Diamondback didn't send Luke to Seagate to become a superhero, but he had these powers for a reason and purpose.
Literally Luke's first rational response to receiving his abilities is, "I can't do anything that'll let people know who or what I am." He wanted to hide and make sure no one would know that he was different. Similarly, we do this with faith; we try to keep our heads down in a lot of situations, go unnoticed, and make sure we don’t let the world see what's different in us. Maybe we are like Luke, where we feel like we are too flawed to deserve these gifts or responsibilities. Maybe we feel like we shouldn’t have them in the first place. Maybe you just don’t want the headache that comes with being public about your faith and the drama that sometimes accompanies standing for Jesus in a broken world. While your faith may not give you bulletproof skin or super strength, it is power, and please know that just like there was a purpose in Luke receiving his power, there is a purpose in God giving his Spirit to believers.
God wants us to have power! Check out Ephesians 3:16-20: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
The power he wants us to have though isn't to be bulletproof and hardcore, but instead that Christ would be strong in our hearts and faith, that we would be loving, understanding, and completely full of the presence of God and reliant on Him for the things beyond us. God spells it out for us on what our power is for, and it's the same thing that Luke's father told him his power was for:
"My father's a preacher. He used to say one way or the other...I would regret the life that I led. He used to say 'The spirit of the Lord is on me, because I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind...to release the oppressed’ (Luke 4:18). He used to tell me that no one could cage a man if he truly wants to be free.”
This passage from which Luke gathered his name and paternally proclaimed as his mission covers a lot of ground. Not only did Luke's dad use it to place a mantle on him, but in context, it's Jesus saying it in reference to himself. Yet even deeper in context, it's not even just Jesus's statement because Jesus is actually reading from Isaiah 61:1. We see this scripture go from old testament prophet, to the King of Kings, to a hoodie clad superhero, and if we are honest with ourselves, it's the model set for us as believers. We are all called to share the good news and bring freedom and healing to the world around us. But so often we are like Luke and think that’s a job for other people like heroes, pastors, or missionaries. We can't be blind to the fact that our power has a purpose.
The world is full of people not being heroes. The world is full of people not standing up for what is right. Rather, the world is full of two other kinds of people. There are those who keep their heads down, and there are those who do evil, commit injustices, and steadily tear down the lives of others. The wicked in this world count on the good to avoid conflict. They count on good to be too apathetic, timid, or absent to get in the way. If the heroes don’t speak up, rise up, and take action, all we will see and hear are the evil in this world tearing things down. We can see this in the character of Cottonmouth.
Cottonmouth: Luke. Mmm, old school. Biblical. I'm all about the old school. You know that eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth kind of thing. Fire and brimstone. See back then do someone wrong, wasn't no beggin' and pleadin'. Just took care of it. Handled your business.
Pop: What about turning the other cheek?
Cottonmouth: Mmm. Jesus saves. I don’t.
Cottonmouth manipulated Harlem for so long because no one stood in his way. The good either ignored him, became corrupt, or lived in fear. I recognize that none of this is easy. It's no easier to live out your faith in today's world than it is for Luke to live up to the potential of his powers. Every time he did something good, something bad happened. For every time he saved someone, someone else suffered. Even though he brought down the bad guy and cleared his name, he still suffered for the sins and false accusations of his past as Carl Lucas. As the credits roll on season one, we see Luke being hauled back off to prison, which we know is unjust, but not surprising. Being a hero cost him his freedom, but he did the right thing. Like Luke, Cottonmouth was fully aware that doing the right thing has consequences.
Cottonmouth: It costs to be a savior. Ask Jesus.
Luke: You started all this. This is me finishing it.
Cottonmouth: You want Harlem, it's expensive. Luke: I don't want Harlem. I just want you to stop messing with it.
Scripture also warns us that following God is going to be costly. In Mark 8:34-35, we read, "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
Jesus goes on in Matthew to show us that in the end, the sacrifice will be worth it, but we need to realize that sacrifice is a possibility, if not an inevitability. Matthew 19:29-30 says "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."
A lot of people were angry with the end of season one of Luke Cage, with him being hauled off to jail, but in reality we can't expect our heroes to always win. By being a hero, you are by nature a target, elevated, and more vulnerable to attack. With God, it's not about us being a hero, it's about us loving God enough to be obedient. In following Christ, you are intentionally going against the grain of this world and following a savior that doesn’t always fit into the way this world works, and there are going to be seasons where you lose. There will be seasons where you suffer, and there will be seasons where you sacrifice. In the end, it will be worth it. In Luke's story, there will be light in the future. You know he won't remain in jail; there will be relationships, friendships, more episodes on Netflix, and probably more great soundtracks.
When we stand up and follow Christ in our lives, we get an even greater reward. We can look forward to a moment like this from Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25:23 where we read, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’" That's enough to make us shout "Sweet Christmas."