What better way to kick off the new season than with everyone’s favorite web-slinger Spider-man? Spider-Man: No Way Home hit theaters at the end of 2021 and is still holding strong in the cultural zeitgeist today. Except we apparently all just agreed that the spoiler warning thing didn’t exist, I guess? I’ve seen more expose articles from reputable news sources than I would have expected.
But that’s not our goal for today - we want to touch on the why behind the what. Most importantly, we want to answer the question that Spidey is faced with… just how much power comes with how much responsibility? Should we really have to sacrifice everything? Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and thinking too deeply about movies that you ought not to give too much thought. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Luke 14:25-30 (NRSV)
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
Let’s just start with a big ol spoiler warning! Although you shouldn’t really need one since everyone else already did - and they let Aunt May down.
So if you are somehow unaware of the monstrosity that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the also quite gigantic Spideyverse crossover between Marvel, Disney, and Sony, then here’s a quick refresher on what’s going on here
Spider-Man No Way Home is the threequel to Spider-man Homecoming and Spider-Man Far From Home. Throughout the adventure, we’ve gotten taken along with the charmingly adorable Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker, the titular webslinger.
By the time this movie picks up, Peter’s secret identity has been revealed by Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio in conjunction with J Jonah Jameson of The Daily Bugle … .com. I mean this is set in 2020-something, right? News is dead. Just like Mysterio. Too soon? Idk Swifties rejoicing.
Anyway, this movie sets the scene with Peter doing all that he can to set the record straight and get folks to forget that he is Spider-man. Now - you may be asking… but why? Why not just be a superhero? Is someone threatening Aunt May? Has someone capture MJ? Is Ned DEAD? No. They just don’t get into MIT. Literally the worst plot point in Marvel history. Did I mention I have problems with this movie? Please don’t click away. Calm down - I still think it’s an 8/10. Let’s hope this sermon doesn’t make me doubt it more.
So Peter goes to the only person he can think of to help for secret identity issues. Is it Bruce Banner who has no paparazzi take his picture when he de-Hulks? Nope. Is it Clint Barton who is actively dealing with the-exact-same-issues? No. Peter goes to Dr. Strange so that he can ‘magic’ his way out of things.
And he does-n’t. The spell goes horribly wrong because Peter can’t commit and changes the spell too many times. A spell that Dr. Strange should never have done in the first place- you were the adult in the room, Stephen!
The spell ends up opening seams in the Multiverse which allow for other franchises to make money on this film- I mean for cool crossovers to sell more movie ticke- I mean for villains to come through the openings - I mean, so that Willem Dafoe could ‘Norman’s not here, honey…’ Yeah, that was the real reason.
So all of the villains - except wait, it’s not quite all of the villains. Just some of the ones that died. Interesting. Think the movie will do anything with that? Mmmmm-nope. Anyway, the villains are out and just start whipping up mayhem for no apparent reason. Peter and Dr. Strange manage to wrangle them all in cages with the intention of putting them back in the proper time.
Except Peter gets the most random and uncalled for guilt trip from Aunt May who has been reading some weird philosophy books out of nowhere and Peter determines that he can ‘fix’ all of the bad guys. So he releases them and goes to an immaculate research lab that never gets explained and begins to do some research at de-villainizing the villains.
And it works. - No it doesn’t work at all. Otto was barely even a villain to begin with and he’s only one that got to get ‘cured’ before Norman Osbourne gets to say his now infamous line and mess everything up.
At the end of it all, the villains escape and Aunt May gets got in an all-too-familiar way to us OG Spidey film-heads. But not before she gets to drop the famous line: with great power, there must also come great responsibility.
Which is great, I love that they gave May the line in this iteration of the Spidey story. Awesome. But not like this! Not when she was the one who did the wrong thing. I need to stop before I get cancelled. Barely survived the whole Solomon thing.
So things are looking pretty awful, the villains are planning to do something somewhere that somehow involves the Statue of Liberty because Spider-man is in New York, dontchufuggedaboutit!
Okay, so in the meantime, MJ and Ned have been playing with a magic woo-woo ring and have accidentally summoned other franchises to make money on this film- I mean some cool crossovers to sell more movie ticke- I mean for the other Spideys to come through to this universe too - I mean, so that Andrew Garfield could save MJ and redeem his past failure. Yeah, okay I liked that part. I’m not heartless.
So everyone teams up, saves the day, [and the Statue of Liberty] and then Strange forces Peter to make an on-the-fly pointless decision to have everyone forget him. He agrees to the forget-me-not spell and promises MJ and Ned that he will come and explain everything to them.
And then he breaks his promise and doesn’t!
Ah - what a movie. Nothing happened by the end of it, no one was saved, Aunt May died for nothing, and Peter became a lying friend at the end. But at least Norman got the antidote - Norman wasn’t really a great person to begin with tbh. Maybe he’ll have a turn-around or do the whole thing all over again. 8. Out. of. 10. At. best. But he got his dinky apartment - who cares about the apartment?? It’s just memes.
But they did make this meme [spideys pointing at each other] a film universe reality. That’s all 8 points.
Okay enough of my thoughts and opinions, let’s see why we’re talking about this movie during this video and what it has to do with our scripture today.
This is one of those moments where the gospel-writers let us in ‘behind the scenes’ to see how Jesus was to those who followed him - and I’m not talking about the twelve here. Jesus had way more than just the twelve closest to him.
In this moment, we get to see Jesus talking to a large crowd who has been following him for a while. If you’re willing to drop everything and follow a guy around for a while, odds are you’d be interested in joining up with him. Why not, right? Who wouldn’t want to be a disciple?
Well, Jesus begins to explain what it means to be a disciple.
You have to hate your
Hold up Jesus - you’re describing the Ultimate Nihilist from Danganronpa 46, not the ultimate life of a Jesus follower here… what’s going on?
Well, fortunately Jesus goes on to tell us a short parable to better explain it for all of the narrative learners out there - there’s this person who wants to build a tower. Wouldn’t this person make sure that they estimate the cost to ensure they have enough to build it? Imagine laying the foundation for a tower and then not being able to complete the project - everyone would mock you and say you couldn't finish what you started.
So this has a couple layers to it… what’s Jesus getting at?
We have a thing
We either plan for the thing or don’t
If we plan, then we’re doing it right
If we don’t plan, we’ll come up short and unfinished
When we come short and unfinished, it will be embarrassing to the project
So we have 1) the goal, 2) the process, 3) the result, and 4) the reception
And all of this has to do with the life of a disciple and whether you should even commit to it.
But what does all of that have to do with hating everyone? Why so serious, Jesus?
Well, the truth of this idea that Jesus is presenting is the keyword: focus
To be a disciple, especially one that is following in the very serious footsteps of Jesus, means to focus on a central goal, on a central pathway. To walk the narrow path that Jesus is calling us to walk.
Let’s go back to the process again. To be a disciple is to focus on the goal, the process, the result, and the reception all at once and all the way.
If we lose focus on our goal, then we just fall away or do something we never planned to in the first place.
If we lose focus on our process, then we might skip a step or miss something or miscalculate or read something wrong or hurt someone.
If we lose focus in our result, then it won’t look right. It won’t be emulating the right thing. People might get confused about what the thing was supposed to look like in the first place.
If we lose focus in the reception, then people will mock us, judge us, or use as an unfair example of how others should look. We’re bringing down everyone by our lack of focus.
All of these things are what Jesus is concerned about, so what causes us to lose our focus? We could say temptations and bad things, but the truth is those things aren’t huge distractions when push comes to shove, we can cut out tv watching, bad food, lack of exercise… it may be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
However, where we find that our focus is really tested is in the things that we love. So, our family. Our mother. Our father. Our wives, husbands, children. Friends. Sometimes even ourselves. Jesus isn’t saying that we need to be bitter or mean, but we do need to be prepared to put the focus of Jesus’ path above even that. And that’s really tough.
Now where this gets really tricky is, will Jesus ever ask that of you? Odds are - no. You shouldn’t really need to put that priority over your people you love. The trick is - if it ever came to that, would you be able to?
So let’s take it back to Spidey and bring this one home… Was Peter’s ‘big’ sacrifice a part of his focus on his goal? Or was it a lack of focus and follow through? Has he built his tower or is he going to run out of material in the long run because he isn’t thinking things through?
Well, the obvious answer is that Peter is a fictional character being written by debatedly clever writers who are going to do all that they can to ensure that every movie follows the hero’s journey as best as it can to allow for Peter just enough mistakes for him to keep making movies.
But that’s the meta, what about in the story?
To me, Tom Holland’s Peter has been heading towards the greater goal of being a mentor and a friend. From Tony to MJ and Ned having more of a role than ever in his journeys so far, this Spidey has been pointing towards a place where he can be someone else’s Tony and pass the flame on. With this movie, he kind of lost focus for me. I’m not sure why he lied to his friends. I’m not sure why he didn’t embrace the world knowing who he was and seeking to be the public-facing hero that could be a goal for so many - especially those in New York!
But he didn’t - so I’d say Holland’s Peter still has a lot to learn. I think he still chose to love those around him more than his actual goal and focus. And maybe you disagree and that’s fine, because like I said we all know that the storymill will keep churning as long as the box office stays open.
But what can we actually take from this story and from Jesus’ call to be focused and think things through? What does this mean for us today?
Well, we can hopefully look at stories like this and see that everyone makes mistakes and fails. Sometimes we fail in protecting those that we love. Sometimes we protect those that we love to the detriment of our overall focus and goal.
But Jesus has made it abundantly clear - the burden is easy and the yoke is light, but we’re still expected to take up our cross. And a life focused on following a guy who loved people so much that he was crucified and buried for them isn’t an easy life. It’s a life that the loved ones around you might not always support. But if you want to follow it, Jesus makes it clear that you need to follow it all the way or you’ll only be hurting yourself and others in the process and will come up short with an unfinished project.
You can’t choose who to love. To really love everyone as Jesus loved everyone might mean that sometimes the people you first loved come second and that’s really tough.
But this is exactly the kind of stuff that the stories we’re gonna be looking at throughout all of season three and our backlog really are exploring. So if you wanna know more about loving as Jesus loves looks like, then feel free to party up and join in with Checkpoint Church.
Whether you’re Peter Parker, Peter Parker, or Peter Parker, you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
Just please don’t call me honey.
Question: Which Spidey is ‘your’ Spidey?
God loves you.
We love you.