“With great power comes great…” Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But what about when you don’t feel like you have any power, especially when it comes to serving God? Maybe you know people who are more “spiritual” than you, who go to Bible school and serve in non-profit organizations, travel overseas on missions trips and teach Sunday School at their church every week. Meanwhile, you’re serving ice cream at McDonald’s, or working construction, or answering phones at a desk, struggling to make it to church every week because you’re exhausted from the hectic schedule it takes to pay rent and buy groceries.
Maybe you don’t feel equipped to serve God without some huge purpose. Maybe you feel guilty because you’re not doing enough “good.”
I think Peter Parker feels similarly in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” After assisting Iron Man in the battle against Captain America in “Civil War,” he’s ready for the next big mission. He wants to do good, defeat villains, and fight crime alongside the Avengers. Stopping bike thieves and giving lost old ladies directions doesn’t feel like enough for him, and he’s impatient when the call from Iron Man to do something “greater” never comes.
“Can’t you just be a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man?” Tony Stark asks him when Peter complains. “Stay close to the ground and build up your game helping the little people, like that lady who bought you the churro.”
Peter spends the rest of the movie learning what it means to be Spider-Man, doing good in ways he’s capable of. It’s only after he loses his suit and when he leaves his date at the prom to stop a weapons dealer that we see his heart change. His desire to serve others becomes a willingness to sacrifice himself, even if his sacrifice isn’t going to change the world or be recognized publicly.
That’s what true service looks like.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a missionary or pastor, or getting a job at a religious organization. It means that you serve God and others in whatever you do. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the body of the church has many parts, and just because you are serving in one place and not another doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
On the contrary, we need friendly, neighborhood Christians — those serving in the mundane and everyday by demonstrating Christ’s love to the people around them, whether that means simply responding to an insult with grace, smiling at a customer, giving a co-worker a ride when his car breaks down, or reciting directions to a lost old lady. If we always stayed within a church or mission to serve, we would be stuck in a Christian bubble that only served to reinforce itself. If we only placed value on “large” missions and actions that have a broad impact, much like the Avengers do, we miss the importance of individual actions and one-on-one relationships.
“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders,” Aunt May says to Peter. Sometimes we need to remember the same. It’s Christ’s job to carry that weight; He’s strong enough to lift it, and He deserves the gratitude and acknowledgement of the world. We don’t. It’s not our job to “save” other people or force hearts to change; only God can do that. But as thanks for His sacrifice, we can serve in whatever capacity we are able, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, pointing others to His love.
[Spoiler warning] At the end of the film when Peter is offered a place with the Avengers, I was at first surprised by his refusal. Stark’s invitation is everything Peter had wanted, everything he had dreamed of, including celebrity status with a roomful of reporters waiting to interview him. He could be the Spider-Man he had envisioned when Stark first handed him the suit; he could save the world with the likes of Thor, Black Widow and Iron Man. Maybe someday they’d even ask him to record state-required videos about hormones, phys. ed. instructions, and motivational talks to play for pubescent students across the country.
But instead of accepting the offer, he turns it down.
Peter realizes his contribution to society doesn’t have to be of epic proportions for it to matter (and he probably also knows, at 15, that he still has some growing up to do). He recognizes that a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man is just what some people need.
So the next time you don’t feel like you’re doing something big enough or important enough, remember that lives can be impacted by everyday acts of service. Maybe no one will notice you and there will be no tangible reward (if you’re lucky, you’ll receive a churro for your efforts). But Spider-Man, and more importantly, God, would be proud.