The movie, “The Wrestler”, was not what I expected. I had expected some silly pantomime about the glory days of professional wrestling, the adolescent boy’s soap opera, where scripted battles and testosterone bravado perform for sellout crowds. Not my cup of tea. But my husband, who grew up with the likes of “the Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, and Baron Von Raschke wanted, nay, needed to go. So off we went to the Kentucky Theater. The lights dimmed. This ought to be good. But we didn’t get a few hours of greased muscles and gymnastics. Instead we got a profound commentary on the human cost of our constant need for cathartic entertainment.
The movie, in fact, had an overt religious overtone. No, I didn’t expect it either. Especially not the part when Marisa Tomei, playing a single mom/stripper quotes scripture in the middle of a lap dance. (Ok, so you can’t take your church youth group to see this one.) Her character is looking at the broken and bruised body of our Wrestler, Mickey Rourke, and spontaneously spouts, “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his stripes we are healed.” Whoa. Where did that come from? That’s not just some Bible verse she’s quoting. That’s a loaded passage. Isaiah 53. A passage that many Christians recognize immediately and do not take lightly. A passage of sacrifice and self-denial. A passage we hear most around the time of Lent and Good Friday about Jesus the Messiah who let his own body be tortured and tormented and crucified for the everyone else’s problems.
But a wrestler?
It wouldn’t have been my first inclination to associate a pro wrestler with the Suffering Servant Jesus. But what about this being wounded for the sake of others? What about allowing others to suffer for our iniquities? Doesn’t that sort of ring true? Athletes who enter the ring are willing to suffer humiliation for the crowds, bruises, broken arms, broken necks, broken family lives. “Wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” The steroids, the drugs, the pain pills. All to satisfy the crowds. All to amuse people who won’t care about them once they get too old. “By his bruises we are healed.” All to see our need for violence acted out, all to let someone else take on all our pain and brokenness.
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There are hundreds of wrestlers willing to take the physical abuse and the dangerous stunts and they paid the price. Rick Rude, Eddie Guerrero. Bam Bam Bigelow. All of ones who did the doping and ignored the heart problems and took on the relentless schedules. Kerry Von Erich, Miss Elizabeth, Owen Hart. We hardly remember them anymore. Used by promoters and agents. Left without pensions or health care or communities who cared unless they were wrestling. My first thought during this movie was of Chris Benoit who murdered his family and took his own life. None of these wrestlers, not one of them, took care of themselves because we asked them not to.
Perhaps we should consider what we are doing to those who entertain us. If we as Christians are appalled by how we, at our worst, treated the Son of God, the one ‘crushed for our iniquities,’ perhaps we should also be appalled by the abuse we sanction for others. How we ask others to shoulder our punishments and bear our all of our dirty warty parts. The wrestler, the boxer, the disastrous starlet, the performer on the stage and in the ring just trying to woo the crowd. Maybe we should be just a little bit appalled at the wounds they take on for our sake.