25 Mar 2012
“In the days when [Jesus] was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries
and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death …” (Heb. 5:7) In the name ...
I’m so out of touch with popular culture that I just heard about a series of books by the author Suzanne Collins. She’s written a trilogy that has been on the New York Times best-sellers list for 180 weeks, that’s nearly three and a half years. This weekend the adaptation of the first book in that trilogy, The Hunger Games, opened in theaters. The books were written with a young adult audience in mind, but their appeal has crossed gender and age barriers, which is a publishing rarity. I’ve never read the books and I most likely will not see the movie, but Suzanne Collins has struck a receptive chord with a large segment of our society. And the reason why may be a little bit disturbing. Critics are asking if readers and viewers are seeing a connection between the fictional, future stories of the trilogy and real world news today.
From what little I know of The Hunger Games, it is set in a post-apocalyptic world of the near future. The survivors of human and nature based cataclysm have established a government where a small, elite class exploits the masses. From the underprivileged classes, 24 children are chosen by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games for the entertainment of the elite. They are forced to fight each other to the death while all the action is broadcast for worldwide audiences. This general theme may not be original, but what is disturbing is that where once this would have been read or watched as purely science-fiction, it may now resonate as something much more. Take, for example, “Bounty Gate.” For $2,000 NFL players were willing to seriously injure their own peers.
The corruption of wealth and power, the prevalence of war, the degradation of the environment and the climate, the commonness of poverty and hunger, the lack of opportunity, all of these are already in our newspapers. The critics are asking if part of the reason why this trilogy is so successful is because people see connections already forming now to this future possibility. The critics are also wondering if our voyeurism through reality TV makes the premise of the Hunger Games less than fantasy. I have never watched one second of reality TV in any of its adaptations. But I know some of its stories. Producers don’t choose well adjusted groups to be filmed. That’s boring. Eat your meals, do your homework, watch some television, go to bed. Whose going to watch that?
So they choose dysfunctional groups. They even intentionally set-up households that just about have to erupt in romance or war, or even better both of them combined. And the viewers watch the anger, the sadness, the treachery passively. It doesn’t emotionally affect the audience. It’s only entertainment. Some woman went through a divorce on one of these shows. If there was any reality to this particular reality TV show, then that had to be at least somewhat traumatic to the ones involved, and yet the audiences kept munching on snacks. The real turmoil was viewed as entertainment. This kind of thing is helping us to become desensitized to the anguish of other people. Reality TV and reality begin to have an ill-defined border. All of a sudden The Hunger Games’ kind of voyeurism doesn’t seem so far off in the future anymore.
And one last thing – Names like Caesar, Seneca and Cato appear in the book-slash-movie. Those are names from the ancient Roman Empire, and the connection is intentional. This Passion Sunday we need to remember that Jesus lived in that Roman world. Jesus experienced the horrors of that kind of place. His suffering and anguish were real. That’s the purpose behind the words we read from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” He wasn’t acting. The heroine in The Hunger Games made the front cover of Parade Magazine (3/18/12) under the title: “Do You Know Me?” (*) She is the exception in her world. She tries to keep a moral balance in that immoral and unbalanced future. She is willing to sacrifice her life to save that of her younger sister’s. Jesus was also the exception. A man of peace in an empire built on war. A messenger of love and justice in an empire of power and greed. A sacrifice offered so that we could live. And in today’s world, Jesus’ picture could also be found under the title: “Do You Know Me?”
Passion Sunday is the stark reminder that Jesus was forced to go into hiding to avoid a premature execution. That’s why all of the shrouds are here in the Sanctuary. And the shrouds also point to our present history, to the absence of serious religion in our world, to a religion that leads by example, to the concrete kind of religion that imitates the example of Jesus in how we choose to live, set our priorities and gauge our success. Do we as a society actually do something to improve people’s welfare or do we care only about ourselves? If there really is even a subconscious connection between the young adult readers of The Hunger Games, who number in the millions, and their perception of our society and where it may be heading, then Jesus really is an unknown. He’s an outsider in this world just as much as He was when He had to go into hiding. The shrouds are still real.
For the sake of the way things could be without Him and His moral compass now, and for the depraved future that our young people fear could really develop, we need to bring Jesus back, and church is a good place to start. Jesus offers an alternative to the passive and indifferent world that could be starting among us right now. We’re now in the Passiontide, the time when we concentrate on the selflessness of our God and the gospel message of perfect love. I challenge all of us to not only hear these words, but to do something with them. In a world where Jesus could ask “Do you know me?”, invite someone to church for Palm Sunday so they can. Let’s hope we run short of palms. Let’s not let the shrouds win. Let’s not let The Hunger Games be our young people’s vision of tomorrow. Jesus is a valid and powerful alternative with real world consequences so let us pray for an end to that question “Do you know me?” when it comes to Jesus. In His name we pray to make a difference by what we do this very week. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo