“Remember, Peter: with great power comes great responsibility.”
- Uncle Ben Parker
Everyone would love to have great power and influence. To overcome bullies and put them in their place. To outshine everyone else in a competition and be celebrated. To win the lottery and spend it on whatever your heart desires. To do more and be more and have more control.
But gaining more power doesn’t mean gaining more life. Before achieving power, a person should know how to live life responsibly without it.
The 2002 film, “Spider-Man”, addressed this truth in a big way, and restored a sense of nobility to the idea of super-hero films. To become a genuine hero, people had to do more than receive super-powers. They needed to make sacrifices that ordinary citizens were not required to make. They needed to attain levels of maturity and responsibility that allowed them to handle those powers in a good way, rather than using their abilities for their own personal gain.
They had to become selfless.
When high school nerd Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a mutated spider, he develops spider-like powers to climb walls and shoot webs from his wrists. He also gains more useful powers like super-strength, super-speed and the ability to sense any approaching danger. Being a teenager, Peter figures he can use his powers for something good: to get the attention of his longtime crush, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). He decides he needs a flashy car to impress her, so he needs to earn some fast cash. So he enters a wrestling competition, disguising himself and using his new power to win the fight and the prize money.
Of course, he had to lie to his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) about the fight, since his guardian would never have given him permission to go to the fight arena. Ben was already worried about Peter’s odd recent behavior. Peter had become reclusive, neglecting his chores and any family time with Ben and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). He even got into a fight at school, acting completely out of character.
Peter insisted he didn’t start the fight, but Ben told him that wasn’t the point. The point was he nearly put the bully who attacked him in the hospital. “Just because you can beat him up doesn’t give you the right to. Remember: with great power comes great responsibility.”
Peter didn’t appreciate Uncle Ben hinting he was heading down the wrong path in life, and begged him to stop lecturing him.
“I don’t mean to lecture and I don’t mean to preach,” Ben said. “And I know I’m not your father –.”
“Then stop pretending to be!” Peter exploded.
Once the words were out, Peter realized it was too late to take them back. Ben quietly ended the conversation and dropped Peter off, planning to pick him up at the same spot later.
Now, as Peter has regained some confidence from winning the fight, he’s ready to celebrate with his three thousand dollar winnings. Only the manager shortchanges him, giving him only a hundred and claiming Peter won the fight before lasting in the ring long enough to claim the prize. Peter argues that he needs that money.
“I missed the part where that’s my problem,” the manager tells him.
Helpless,Peter leaves the office. A few minutes later as he waits for the elevator, another man comes running from the manager’s office, pursued by a policeman. The manager emerges and shouts that the man stole his cashbox. The officer shouts for Peter to help stop the fugitive.
Instead, Peter steps aside, letting the thief flee into the elevator to escape.
The policeman is aghast. He runs for the stairs, yelling at Peter that all he had to do was stand in the crook’s way. The manager is angry, too. “You could have taken that guy apart. Now he’s going to get away with all my money!”
“I missed the part where that’s my problem,” Peter states, relishing his revenge.
Later, Peter finds his Uncle Ben laying on the sidewalk, injured from a gunshot wound. He dies as Peter kneels beside him. Peter dons his wrestling mask and follows police reports and squad cars to track the murderer. When he finds and confronts him, he recognizes it is the same thief he allowed to escape with the manager’s cashbox. His moment of glory has become a tragic, selfish mistake. One that cost him his Uncle Ben.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Everyone would applaud Peter for turning the tables on the manager who cheated him. It’s our nature to seek revenge instead of letting someone get the better of us. To seek our version of justice instead of God’s version of mercy.
The Bible calls us to something higher, and heroism calls us to something nobler. The Bible says, “Whoever can be trust with little can be trusted with much.” If we can’t handle the little things in life – the mundane, everyday choices to do what we know is right – how can we make the right choices when faced with big decisions?
The interesting thing is, Peter didn’t need special powers to do what he did. To stop the thief, all he had to do was block his path for one second while the officer grabbed him. To take revenge on the corrupt fight manager, all he had to do was step aside.
Peter chose to step aside. He chose revenge.
He chose himself.
Thankfully, Peter learned his hard lesson and devoted himself to helping others, at great personal sacrifice. Even surrendering his own happiness in a relationship with Mary Jane in order to protect her from further attacks. Because he learned his powers were meant for others, not for himself.
We all make similar choices every day, to help ourselves or someone else. Who will you choose?
Be someone’s hero.
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Sunday, July 1st, 2012