- Mike Wilson
The Falcon & The Winter Soldier: Cap’s Shield, Ideals, & Christianity. Guest Chapter By Mike Wilson
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
To imagine, this whole topic came from a post… a post. Hector had posted, on Faith and Fandom, a pic of a Cap backpack with a caption stating, “Might need to put the Captain America Backpack away for a bit.” Now, it could have been Covid; it could have been the lack of coffee in my system, or my kiddos running around my house… but something in me just had to respond. At a moment’s notice, I jumped on the post, stating that it is the ideals that are being the shield, and not the person, that should determine our Cap support. Like how Christians who… well, you will have to read more to get the rest of it. Yet, this is where it led to: a great message back and forth with Hector, and an opportunity to share my heart behind The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Before seeing the post by Hector, I had a whole other topic in mind: just off the first couple of episodes, I was ready to hit up the connection between Sam and the parables of the talents. Thank goodness I waited until I had seen more in the series and Hector’s post.
Back on topic now. Cap is one of my personal favorites in the Marvel Universe of heroes. He was a hero that started from the ground up, and was a man of ideals. I was a bit nervous seeing how the studio was going to have Sam step into wielding the shield and filling the boots of Captain America. I was also a little perturbed that Bucky was not handed the shield before Sam, simply for the sake of the order of who took the mantle, in the comics. However, all of that was put off to the side when we were introduced to the new Cap… John Walker.
You see, I see the mantle of Cap, his shield, is really similar to the title of Christians. The shield was passed on from the original Cap to another, to pass on its ideals to the next generation. When we choose to follow and commit our lives to Jesus and what He stood for, we are carrying his mantle in our lives in every action, word, and thought. The very title of “Christian” was a jab at followers of Jesus in the early church, as it meant “little Christ”. There is something we are choosing to carry in the title of being a Christian, and how we carry that changes how we impact those around us. As I watched the series, I saw the shield being like that title for Christianity, and saw three different responses to it, which I see in our Bibles.
John Walker: Entitlement of the shield
When I first saw John with the shield, I have to admit, I had shivers going up and down my spine. As soon as I saw his uniform on the podium, I knew this season was going to be a bumpy ride. John, on paper, is someone that anyone would want to carry the shield: a man who was not just recognized, but awarded, for his service within the military, seemingly knowing the right things to say, when on camera. Behind the scenes, we a see a young man who understands holding the shield bears some weight behind it. “I’ve been a captain before, obviously, but this is different. Everybody in the world expects me to be something. And I don’t want to fail them.” You can feel the pressure behind those words (who wouldn’t?), with a guy like Cap to follow after. Yet, he has a plan, and that plan is clear from that point on as to where he would take his lead from.
“I don’t have super strength. But what I do have is guts. Something Captain America always had, always needs to have, and I’m going to need every ounce of it. Because I’ve got big shoes to fill.”
Did you feel that? It was so close, but then fell at the finish line. Sure… Cap had guts, but the biggest thing about him was his heart: he was a good man. And this is what we see throughout the show, coming out more and more, that John tends to operate out of his gut feeling and strict tactics, which does not always pan out. It’s moments like when he faces confrontation, that he throws his title around, to get what he wants. “Do you know who I am?” (yet he doesn’t get the results that he looks for…) “Yes, I do. And I don’t care.”
With not being taken as seriously on foreign soil, and as other Avenger allies, John seems more and more pressured to make his claim to the shield more prevalent, but this just weakens his resolve. Being beaten by Dora Milaje in hand-to-hand combat, there seems to be only one solution: he needs to be better, and the only way to do it is through the soldier serum. This just leads to more extreme tactics, fights, and eventually loss with his friend, as well as loss of control, with a very public killing. Now, he is even getting called out by Cap’s closest crew, to take back the shield, as he is not worthy of it. He is left broken and distressed, forced to make his own way with a pseudo shield.
John is very similar to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, in Jesus’ time. That may seem tough, but let me work out my point here. Before Jesus entered the scene, before Greece and Rome had taken hold over Israel, the Jewish people had made it back from exile. This exile was brought on themselves due to not adhering to God’s laws (worshipping God only, upholding justice, etc). Now, the Jewish people had learned they must follow every letter of the law, and then God will stay with them. Enter the Pharisees, who were trying to adhere to God’s law, not just by the letter, but going above and beyond it, simply because they saw the law as their means of salvation.
Their actions of strict adherence to cleanliness, social ostracism, and piety were attempts to make themselves good enough to be God’s people. Jesus, on the other hand, points out how they were missing the mark: “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matthew 9:13). Even after Jesus had done his ministry on earth, and it was left to the disciples and apostles, Paul had to call out Peter about this, over being one way with his fellow Jews, and different with the Gentiles.
“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (Galatians 2:15-16).
Just like John, we can get focused on what seems right — trusting our gut, or being extreme in following the rules, to the point where it starts hurting others, rather than
showing the love, mercy, and grace of Christ. We can get so focused on our title of “Christian”, that we forget that, part of being a Christian, is serving those around us (not just our church friends). Being like Christ is doing the heart work in ourselves, and giving the benefit of that work to those around us. When God was picking someone for the role of king for Israel, and was leading Samuel, he gave him this wisdom. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Later, we see that John does work his role after Sam takes the shield. Though he may have, at first, been guided by his gut, we see that he learns from the lesson at the end. He learns to take guidance from Bucky and Sam, going with the softer touch approach in the end. We, too, can learn from this, that we need to reflect on how our Captain
(Christ) modeled the way for us to take on his mantle.
Bucky: Broken behind the shield
Bucky Barns is still, to this day, one of my favourite Marvel characters, and this series confirmed it time and time again. Bucky is a broken man, but he is trying to do something about it. When Sam was given the shield, I am sure there were some questions going off in his head, but we see a respect/understanding that Steve knows best. He trusts in Steve’s choice. Plus, this gave us some great avenues to be able to see his healing process, with those he had hurt in the past. There is one trigger that sets Bucky off though… when John takes the shield. At first, it’s easy to see Bucky’s frustration with Sam, when giving up the shield.
Bucky: Shouldn’t have given up the shield.
Sam: Good to see you too, Buck.
Bucky: This is wrong.
Sam: Hey, hey, look, I’m working, alright? So all this outrage is going to have to wait. Bucky: You didn’t know that was going to happen?
Sam: No, of course I didn’t know that was going to happen. You think it didn’t break my heart to see them march him out there and call him the new Captain America? Bucky: This isn’t what Steve wanted.
There is so much frustration over that. Bucky trusted Steve’s decision. It was was only explained, at the end of this episode, why giving up the shield hit him so hard… why someone else taking it up impacted him the most.
Bucky: Why did you give up that shield?
Sam: Why are you making such a big deal out of something that has nothing to do with you?
Bucky: Steve believed in you. He trusted you. He gave you that shield for a reason. That shield, that is everything he stood for. That is his legacy. He gave you that shield, and you threw it away like it was nothing.
Sam: Shut up.
Bucky: So maybe he was wrong about you. And if he was wrong about you, then he was wrong about me.
I am going to level with you guys. In that moment, I bawled my eyes out, in hurt for Bucky’s struggle. I felt what Fred (in Big Hero Six) said, in wishing I had the super power to reach through the screen to hug Bucky. I could relate too much to him, in that moment. I know my brokenness all too well, and I am sure you are fully aware of your own brokenness, too. That is why we hold on to Christ so much. That is why we connect with mature Christians, to get support and to learn how to heal. However, some of those very people, that we have seen as mentors in the faith, can let us down inadvertently, as Sam did. We see this a lot in Christian circles of leadership, where someone chooses to go back on their faith and say it was all wrong. That hits lots of people and can make us think, “If they couldn’t make it work, how can I even do it?”
Bucky wonderfully explains further to Sam what his dilemma with the shield is:
Bucky: It’s just that shield’s the closest thing I’ve got left to a family. So when you retired it, it made me feel like I had nothing left. Made me question everything. You, Steve, me. You know, I’ve got his book. And I just figured if it worked for him, then it’d work for me.
Sam: I understand man. But Steve is gone. And this might be a surprise, but it doesn’t matter what Steve thought. You got to stop looking to other people to tell you who you are.
I love this… Bucky needed to refocus on what his identity was found in. His identity was not merely tied to the shield, but what it stood for. Part of that process is remembering that he is working out his past, and was not just finding peace for himself, but to give closure to those he hurt. Sam’s challenge to him is that he is the only one who can give them closure on what happened to their loved ones. Psalms 51:17 says, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
Steve saw brokenness in Bucky, but he also saw potential in what he could do, if he worked on it. It is when we are willing to admit that we are broken, and have nothing to offer than ourselves, that God does the work. After all, it is really just us and Jesus, at the end of the day, that keeps things going in our faith. A keen reminder for me, when I am broken, is to go to Hebrews 12:1-2 — “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Other Christians are our support in our walk in faith, but ultimately, we need to keep our eyes on Christ, as he was the one who saved us and works with us along the journey.
Sam: Unworthily taking up the shield
If I could put to words what I felt defined Sam, at in the start of all this, it would be unworthy. Sam was given the opportunity, directly from Steve, to be Cap, and he felt like it was not his to take on. I think Sam started off where John was starting off — nervous/unsure if they could fill the shoes Steve had worn. Sam’s speech, when he put the shield in the Smithsonian exhibit shows his hesitation:
“We need new heroes. Ones suited for the times we’re in. Symbols are nothing without the women and men that give them meaning. And this thing (holding up the shield).... I don’t know if there’s ever been a greater symbol. But it’s more about the man who propped it up, and he’s gone. So today we honour Steve’s legacy. But also, we look to the future. So, thank you, Captain America. But this belongs to you.” - Sam
Sam knows that the world is going haywire. Billions of people coming back from non existence, a terrorist group seeking to level the playing field, and his own troubles at home to boot. He knows someone is needed to make a stand, to show the way and
stand for what’s right. The only issue… Sam not thinking he is the right guy for it. What difference can he make in comparison to Steve?
It can come at us like that. Looking at Jesus, and what he did in his 3 years of ministry, is pretty intense, not to mention his willingness to lay down his life for us, in the mix of it all. Yet, here we are. We are Sam, in this case, and Jesus is like Cap: giving us the shield, knowing full well what that shield means, but we can freeze at the thought of the weight of it all. I can only imagine, hypothetically, how the disciples must have felt after Jesus did his Great Commission speech and then disappears in the sky. Peter, of course, being the vocal one of the group — “Guys... who are we to share this message to others? We are not scholars and there are only 11 of us. How are we supposed to get this message out to everyone?” Personally, I would have wondered how on earth I am going to get this message to all of the world.
The thing that I appreciate from Sam is that he did an honest evaluation of himself, and the responsibility of the shield, and he was humble about it. He knew what the shield meant, what it required, and didn’t feel he was able to live up to it. That being said, we see, throughout the series, he was clearly seeing that leadership was needed. Not a bold stance like John, but one from the heart and in sincerity, like in his brief talk with Karli. He could have stomped in to take her out, but he chose to hear her out and appeal to her heart. Just as he did with Isaiah. He could have just railroaded him on how things are different these days, but he chose to hear about his struggles and concerns. What Sam had to offer, that Cap saw all along, was his willingness to hear out people, giving them a voice through his actions. Sam wants to genuinely help the world, by hearing and voicing its struggles.
Cap knew what he was doing when calling Sam to take on the shield. He knew, because he had seen Sam before he became The Falcon, and before he became an Avenger. Steve knew because, in a way, he was prepping him for it, as the heart of each mission they did together. Jesus was doing the same thing with the disciples. The
disciples were doing everything that Jesus was doing, and Jesus was not afraid to let them know he was not going to be around forever. He let them know it was better for them that he was going to be gone, so the Holy Spirit would be with them, guiding them in what to do. Jesus reminded them, they were chosen and that they would be able to do even greater things than he was doing.
“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” - John 15:16
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” - John 14:12
At the end of the series, we still see a humble Sam. However, this humble Sam knows the world needs guidance and unification, to get things back on track. They needed someone who understood their plight, who was not going to back down until they were heard, but do it the right way. We finally see him wield the shield, taking on the mantle of Cap to unify the world, in his very public live speech (as well as calling out the bureaucracy that needed to be changed). We saw the Cap that Steve saw from day one, and it was amazing!
So… where do you fit in? Which one of the shield barriers do you see yourself in? Because, I’ll tell you something: Christ sees us with the potential to follow him, to take on his mantle, dying to our self-focused nature, and making a difference in the world, through his example. The key to taking on the mantle is to focus on the One who held it (or in our case who holds it), letting his words and actions be the guiding force of who we are to be.
When one meets 32 year-old Mike Wilson, they can’t help but notice how much of a nerd he is. He is passionate about relating all things nerdy to Biblical principles. “Nerd”, to him, is anyone who’s invested deeply in anything. When he’s not nerding out, you can find him spending time with his epic wife of 9 years, and teaching the way of the nerd to his 5 year-old son Mark, and 3 year-old daughter Hannah. Mike throws himself fully into what he is excited about, which includes his part-time work with Youth Unlimited through Graphic Word. When he’s not nerding while working, he hangs out with and invests in youth & young adults, as a part-time pastor at his church. If you love finding connections between God’s story and desire for our lives and pop culture from a Canadian perspective, be sure to connect with him on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: @gwnerds Michael WilsonDirector/Founder of Graphic Word Quinte YFC/Youth Unlimited 613-827-7391 firstname.lastname@example.org Engaging young heroes to level up their lives