Faith & Fandom
Luke Cage: Your Brother's Keeper
The second half of Luke Cage's first season on Netflix took an interesting turn, bringing the story around to Luke's familial past back on him with the sins of his father. We find that the season's overarching villain Diamondback is none other than Luke's older illegitimate brother. The interaction that unfolds as the story progresses gives us a modern urban retelling of the story of Isaac and Ishmael. It's like they literally took the old testament story and just changed the names and location.
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A "man of God" has a child out of wedlock and it causes great friction between his wife and the child's mother. (Genesis 16 a 21)
The "man of God" had a child with his wife, and then casts aside and ignores his first son and the child's mother. (Genesis 21)
The "Man of God" honors his rightful child. (Genesis 25:5)
It's a painful story and one that fits really well into the mold of Luke and Diamondback. Watching their interaction gave me a clearer understanding of what it could have been like for Ishmael to grow up in Isaac's shadow. It demonstrated what it would be like to be the firstborn son but to receive none of the credit, none of the love, and none of the praise. Ishmael was not even be able to carry the weight of his family's honor. We don't hear too much from Ishmael as the years go on in the Bible; we learn of his lineage, his lifespan, and his death, but not of the anguish he and Hagar must have went through after being cast away. That doesn't mean Ishmael would have been an Israeli super villain, but the pain was real.
Sins Of The Father
In both of these stories, I believe that the weight of the tension, the strife, and the pain lie on the fathers. Abraham had received a promise from God. He knew that God had promised him that he would be the father of many nations that he and Sarah/Sarai would have a son. In Genesis 15:2-6, God lays it out for him:
"But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
The crazy thing is that when I read this, it says "and he believed the Lord." Abram (at this point) fully believed God would keep His promise, but by the next chapter we see in the story, Sarai/Sarah had grown impatient. Genesis 16:1-2 recounts it this way:
”Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go into my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
To be fair, a lot of this was on Sarah. She pushed this on Abram, but Abram believed God and he shouldn't have listened to his wife when it meant ignoring what God had said. All the pain that came forward after this was the result of Abram not listening to what God had told him. It's the same thing we see with Luke's dad, Reverend Lucas. As Diamondback recounts, "She was a secretary for a big-time preacher. A bold, charismatic man who loved to talk loud and dress fancy. They worked long, stressful hours and, well, they had a lot of laughter in that back office. Something was bound to happen and it did. I was born. But he was married." True Rev. Lucas's wife didn't push the situation, but the outcome was the same. Men of God ignored what God had called them to and Ignored the commitment of their marriage. They ignored the obedience and higher standards that are required of those who follow God, and not only committed adultery, but fathered a child. I know there was less of a legal party foul with Hagar because she was given as a handmade, but Abram still knew just as well as Rev. Lucas that this wasn't what God had called them to do. The father's sinned, resulting in children being born, Diamondback and Ishmael. Now they had the option to do the right thing, to own their mistakes, and be responsible and care for the families God had given them. But that's not what took place.
Neglect Of Our Families
With Sarai/Sarah, it took little time for the contempt and drama to take place. Continuing on in Genesis 16, we read:
"So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.” (v. 3-6)
Abram had the chance to make amends, to make peace, to defend and take care of the child he had brought into the world and the woman he had laid with; instead, copped out with, "Do to her as you please." This resulted in Hagar being treated harshly, as if this situation wasn't hard enough. Hagar listened to God and stuck around and things seem okay until Isaac was born. Once Isaac arrives, Sarah gets hardcore again as we see in Genesis 21:10, "So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.’” God told Abraham to go along with what Sarah said, but God took care of Hagar and Ishmael even when everyone else had abandoned them. This is very similar to what happened with Diamondback. He says:
"Everything was good until the preacher's wife, two years later, had a baby boy. A miracle child. And everything changed. The great Reverend Lucas wasn't man enough to give his first son his last name. You see, I was still Willis Stryker. But his real son was Carl Lucas. But here's the crazy thing. Nobody said nothing. And Carl and I we grew up best friends, but there was all this tension. You could just feel it like a draft coming in from under a door. I just wanted him to see me. I was a good boy. I did well in school. But he always loved Carl more.”
Can you imagine what that must feel like for Diamondback and Ishmael to know you were the son of a "great" man who communed with God, yet never be accepted as part of the family? Can you imaged being cast out. Not only did Diamondback suffer, but he also had to watch his mother suffer. Diamondback recounts:
"Oh, her cancer ate her alive and she died alone in a shelter without a friend in the world. You see, the good Reverend Lucas well, he stopped caring for her after I was gone. He was free of her and I was powerless. But she, oh... Oh, she still loved him and well, she wanted me to have something of my father’s.”
I feel bad for these guys. To be completely cast off, ignored by their fathers, and live in the shadow of another who was constantly praised must be hard. Please understand that I'm not here to knock Abraham or Sarah; I'm just stating that it's a hard situation to be in. While I can't change anything with Isaac, and Diamondback is, well, fictional, I can encourage you and remind myself to be cautious.
James 3:1 gives us this cautionary statement. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Rev. Lucas was held to a high standard. When we teach the Word of God, we are His messengers and we will be judged more strictly. Forget Rev. Lucas; I will be judged more strictly. I forget that so often, or more so I ignore it. I'm not telling you to live in fear if you are a minister of some sorts, I’m telling you to live in integrity. If we don't have integrity when we lead, what do we have?
I love this verse about David in Psalm 78:72. It reads, "And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them." We are so concerned with how we lead others and how we appear to the people we lead that we forget that our family members are the ones who truly see us. If we don't lead and love our family with integrity, literally nothing else we say or do matters. I am in no way perfect in this. I've made plenty of mistakes, which is why when I watched Diamondback spout off his animosity that it wounded me a bit. I saw myself in the mistakes Rev. Lucas made. I saw myself in his failures and the damage he had done. I haven't had a child out of wedlock or slept with my wife's handmade or anything, but I've had slips in my integrity that damage my family and others. I've made mistakes that could indeed isolate my children or harm their view of God. Even more so my future mistakes could do the same or more. So please, live with integrity.
Diamondback was so wounded by his past that not only did it pervert his image of his family and fill him with bitterness, but also his image of God.
Luke: "I'm sorry, Willis. I wasn't a good friend. I loved you like a brother."
Diamondback: "I am your brother."
Luke: "Couldn't we have made amends a long time ago?"
Diamondback: "Couldn't you have died during childbirth?"
Diamondback: "You left me to rot, Carl."
Luke: "We can work this out."
Diamondback: "Work what out? My life? My mother destroying herself? Being away for so long? Nah, there's nothing left to work out. ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ Ain't that what the great Reverend James Lucas used to scream at us? Preached peace and prosperity, every Sunday on the pulpit, but come Friday night on the sideline? Nothing but fire and brimstone. Guess he saved the sin for Saturday night like everybody else. And everybody else caught hell but you. All the world's a stage for the preacher's son, and I was a quarterback. And no matter how many passes I threw, he was all about running the ball. Because he wanted the game in your hands. God had me at hello with Genesis. The story of Cain and Abel. When God asked Cain where Abel was after he killed him Cain asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?” So after I kill Luke Cage I'm gonna stand over him and say, "Yes, I am.”"
I know not everyone reading this is a father. I know that not everyone reading this will be a minister or be spiritually responsible for the lives of hundreds of people. Regardless of who you are as a believer, you will affect the spiritual position of the people around you. You will affect how people perceive you, the God you claim, the reality of that God, and the authenticity of His love. Diamondback had one thing right for sure — we are our brother's keeper. We have the responsibility to live with integrity and love not only to our God, but for those with whom we come in contact. I would also encourage you that if your father, brother, spiritual leader, youth pastor, wife, or anyone else has wronged you, forgive them. If someone has filled you with bitterness, let it go. If someone has caused you to lose faith in them, realize that there is no human living who can effectively live up to the standard of representing God. Please offer grace. Model forgiveness to others so that they can see what it truly looks like.
One of my favorite things of the story of Isaac and Ishmael is this, found in the death of Abraham in Genesis 25:7-9. It reads, "Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelahnear Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite." Don't miss it. When Abraham died, he was gathered with his people, and Isaac and Ishmael buried him. Regardless of whatever else happened, they were able to come together for this. Yes, their father let them down in some ways and there was reason for bitterness and angst. They were still able to stand together in this time. As a father and a pastor, let me make this plea; live with integrity, live with love. Forgive those who have wronged you, and don't allow bitterness to divide you from the imperfect people in your life. Be your brother's keeper.