Ms. Marvel and the Welcoming Reach of Jesus
Have you ever felt like the odd one out? Like the one that no one was quite able to relate to? Maybe you’re a bit weird in a world of normies, or perhaps you have something about you that stands out in a crowd. As lonely as that can feel, you aren’t alone. Plenty of us out there feel like we don’t fit in or belong anywhere.
For this video, I will look at the new Disney+ series, Ms. Marvel's main character Kamala Khan. She is a perfect example of how to and how not to embrace the uniqueness of who you are. Most importantly, as we are Checkpoint Church, we’ll look at a scripture story that immediately came to mind when I thought of Kamala in an account you may have never heard discussed before.
How can the lifestyle of a Christian have anything to do with a Muslim character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Well, obvs, because Jesus is for everyone. But it’s more specific than that, so… Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and Avengers cosplay. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Acts 8:27-38 (NRSVue)
So [Philip] got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
Before we get started - have you heard or read that story before? I’m curious to see if that portion of the Bible may have been skimmed by the evangelical church growing up. Let me know.
Now, what is Ms. Marvel all about?
This is the latest Disney+ MCU-based miniseries that follows Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old fangirl of the Avengers who struggles to fit in until she gains her powers.
Khan is also a Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City who is an aspiring artist and avid gamer who also writes superhero fan fiction about heroes such as Captain Marvel, her personal favorite.
The producers of the show wanted Khan to bring a "grounded perspective" to the MCU with "bright and eager eyes" and to mirror the Spider-man of the comics by enjoying the simplicity of a life with powers instead of worrying about high school, boys and relationships, family drama, and culture and religion.
Head writer Bisha K. Ali described Khan as an "avatar" for all viewers who had grown up with the MCU.
In the show's first episode, we follow Kamala and her best friend Bruno Carrelli as they rush to finish her Captain Marvel cosplay for "AvengerCon" while avoiding her strict parents.
After failing to convince her parents to let her go to AvengerCon, Kamala and Carrelli sneak out and attend anyway, taking a magical bangle from Khan’s family as part of her cosplay.
After getting there and dressing up, she puts it on, but it causes her to project constructs of cosmic energy, inadvertently causing havoc.
Carrelli rushes Kamala home, where a distraught momma bear pleads with her daughter to focus on her own story.
And we will just have to see where the season will go. It seems like this series will wrap in the DODC (Dept of Damage Control), so it will be interesting to see who comes out of that connection.
Either way, we know this show is inevitably barreling forward toward the upcoming Brie Larson film The Marvels, so it seems like Kamala will get to meet her idol in some capacity in the future.
And there are a couple of things I want to draw out of this story so far, but maybe it would be best to go ahead and take a look at our scripture first.
Our scripture passage comes out of the book of Acts, or the Acts of the Apostles, which can be seen as the sequel to the book of Luke, if you will.
In this passage, we learn a bit more about Philip’s ministry. Philip is one of the disciples of Jesus and is one that we only get bits and pieces of throughout the gospels.
In this encounter, Philip is led by the Holy Spirit to go out to a particular place at a particular time, as is customary of these Spirit leadings. When he arrives, he finds an Ethiopian eunuch.
Why is this relevant?
Well, it’s hard to know precisely why Luke wants us to know this, but this was likely an illustration of this man’s connection to Judaism - that is to say, he barely had any.
An outsider from Ethiopia, a eunuch who would likely not even be welcomed in some sect of Jewish culture, a court official who had other things preoccupying his time, and a treasurer… we all know that money and taxation were a hot button topic for most, especially the Jewish church during Jesus’ time- hence the whole table flippy stuff.
So this is someone that wouldn’t be important except to Jesus’ all-encompassing ministry.
The Spirit tells Philip - hey, why don’tcha go and talk to the guy riding in the chariot over there.
So Philip does, and he hears the darnedest thing… the Ethiopian reads a passage out of the Jewish scriptures of Isaiah the prophet. And not just ANY passage… no, no, no, this is a passage explicitly about the Messiah role that Jesus fulfilled.
Philip is a Jewish man more than capable of entering into some explanation of the passage and asks the eunuch if he knows what he is reading.
The eunuch is like, uh, how can I know unless someone of Jewish descent, someone more connected to this thing, tells me?
So, he invited Philip in and is willing to listen to him - that in and of itself is another huge deal. This eunuch had to be willing to hear from this random Jewish wanderer.
After reading the passage, the eunuch curiously asks about the subject of the passage. Who is this suffering Messiah? Is it Isaiah himself? Is it someone else?
Well, what a perfect time for the perfect message. Philip explains in detail the stories of Jesus, from his birth to his baptism, to his death, to his resurrection.
The eunuch latches onto the baptism part and sees some water that just so happens to be outside the carriage, and he says, “lookee there, it’s water! What is stopping you from baptizing me right here and right now?”
And so Philip does.
And the eunuch is baptized at that moment. And then Philip teleports away, but we may be ready to talk about that one.
So what is happening here, and what does it have to do with Kamala Khan?
The truth in this passage and the story of Ms. Marvel is what I like to call ‘the myth of perfection’ versus the true perfection offered in a relationship with Jesus.
In both of these instances, we see people mixed up in idolatry of something that doesn’t exist.
Now, I admit I am doing some historical imagination with the eunuch here, but he is interested in Jewish teaching. If he has somehow come across a copy of the book of Isaiah, that’s not a thing that is just ‘available’ around town, right?
So he is intrigued and curious. Maybe he has a vision of what it means to have a relationship with God. Perhaps he doesn’t even have that goal for himself but fancies what it could be like to be known by God.
And then we have Kamala. She worships the Avengers, to the point that the writer literally had it in mind that her character might serve as the surrogate for you and me, nerd. But she doesn’t look anything like her heroes.
Her favorite hero is Carol Danvers, blonder than blonde and neon white like her photon rays. Plus, her name is Carol. CAROL.
Kamala, in the meantime, is a Pakistani, Muslim, dark-haired cosplayer with the last name Khan, like the Conquerer. She doesn’t belong in the ranks of the heroes.
And the eunuch doesn’t belong in the halls of the priest and prophet of the Jewish temple.
And Jesus says - hey, look, there’s water. And where there’s water, you’re welcome.
Friends, we live on Planet Earth, where water falls from the sky regularly. Why does that tie together the welcomeness of the Body of Christ water? Because water is life. It’s existence. It’s everywhere, for everyone, for every time.
This is why I don’t get hot and bothered over virtual reality baptism or any of the other hot-button topics of the modern church - it’s just not that complicated.
Then what’s stopping you from being welcomed into the Body of Christ? Is there water? It’s not complex. It’s radically, bafflingly open to everyone everywhere all the time.
A suffering Jesus invites us to the water and welcomes the eunuch, the Ethiopian, the Muslim, the Pakistani, the Kamala and the Carols, the lovers, and the haters. Nothing could ever separate us because no matter how lonely we feel, there’s water close by, and the healing waters of Jesus will always welcome you.
What does this mean for us today?
I want to encourage you simply to look for water or for someone who could use some water. We mean what we say every stream, every video, every podcast… it’s always true. We do mean the three things we say at the end of this video about everyone watching this.
No matter what you believe, or look like, or act like, or talk like, no matter what you think or feel, no matter how you doubt, no matter what names you’ve called God, nothing, nothing, nothing could ever possibly make you unworthy of the offering made in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that remains ever-present in every puddle, physical or virtual, that you may see.
So, if you’re looking for water right now, Jesus offers it. Always and forever and for every person.
And if you’re trying to limit the power of God by saying who is and isn’t worthy, don’t stand too close to me; I’m not trying to get smote by the almighty smiter. If I had to choose between being Heaven’s Bouncer or Doorholder, I know which I’m choosing.
So whether you’re a Carol, Kamala, or Bruno, know that you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.