Into The Labyrinth – 02.It’s All Greek

Posted by on March 26, 2012 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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Our story begins with two kings.  Minos of the island of Crete and Aegeus of the city of Athens.  There are different accounts about the reason that these kings came into conflict.  Some say that Minos sent his son to Athens to participate in the pan-Hellenic games but his son was killed by his rivals.  As the host, Aegeus was responsible for the safety of all athletes.  The unjustified killing of the young man brought a burden down on Aegeus and Athens.  Minos demanded that Aegeus surrender the killers, but Aegeus could not.  Thus, Minos exacted his revenge on all of Athens.  To satisfy his wrath, he demanded that Aegeus send seven young men and seven young women to him each year (some sources say that it was every seven or fourteen years).

Minos would throw these Athenian youth into his own wicked game.  The fourteen youth, known as tributes, would enter into the Labyrinth – a great maze invented by the genius architect Daedelus.  Not only would the tributes get lost in the maze, but they would be destroyed by a monster kept in the Labyrinth , the Minotaur.  The Minotaur was a half human-half bull creature kept by Minos.  None of the young victims ever escaped the labyrinth.  No one ever survived the horrible minotaur.  Time after time, Aegeus and Athens continued to grieve as they would send their brightest and best as tributes to save their city.

Perhaps this old tale reminds some of you of a certain book that inspired a movie that opened this weekend, The Hunger Games.  The author of the book, Suzanne Collins, admits that she was inspired by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.  Of course the similarity ends with the set up.  One criticism of the movie is that the horrific system of sacrifice continues with little justice.  But that’s only because there are two more movies to come.  The good ole Greeks don’t leave us hanging quite so long.  They very quickly give us a champion – a hero to end the horror.

He is named Theseus.  He turns out to be the son of Aegeus, who left a sword and armor beneath a rock near the home of the child’s mother.  When Theseus was strong enough to lift the rock he claimed his birthright and became a mighty hero whose fame spread to Athens.  Upon hearing of the horrific and unjust tribute given to Minos, Theseus presented himself to Aegeus and volunteered to go as a tribute to Crete.

When he arrived in Minos, Theseus won the heart of the king’s daughter Ariadne.  She persuaded Daedelus to help Theseus, so he gave Theseus a ball of twine to trace his path through the Labyrinth.

Being a hero, Theseus heads right into the heart of the maze and confronts the monster.  Though he is unarmed, Theseus beats the Minotaur to death his fists.  Next, he rescues all the captives and escapes the maze.  By risking himself, Theseus ends the threat of the Labyrinth and lifts the burden of Minos’ revenge on Athens.

The myth of Theseus, as well as the stories it has inspired such as The Hunger Games, points to virtues that speak to us.


  1. Noble sacrifice is a heroic trait.  When one risks or sacrifices himself or herself for others who are weak or powerless, we recognize that as virtuous.
  2. We should be stirred to grief and action in the face of injustice.  Both Theseus and The Hunger Games are calculated to upset us with a description of human sacrifices for the sake of revenge, bloodlust, and anger.  We are repulsed by the intent to destroy human life and prolong suffering to satisfy the power of the unjust.
  3. Heroic deeds inspire others to be heroic.  He is the basis of heroes such as King Arthur and Superman.  Theseus inspires heroes that follow him.  His hero is Hercules – and he even saves Hercules’s life later in his career.  Theseus becomes a champion of the common man and he was the symbol for democracy in Athens.  The heroic qualities of the heroes of the Hunger Games find their root in Theseus.

Is There a Hero in The Gospel?

Stories of heroes appeal to us.  Every culture has stories about heroes that embody virtues and stand for what is right.  But what about the gospel?  Is there a place for a hero in the gospel?  A close reading of 1 Corinthians 15, among other texts, suggests that there is.  Christ triumphs over the powers of death to save others and to reclaim a broken and suffering world for his Father.

Without realizing it, the myth of Theseus and stories like the Hunger Games point toward the greater truth and virtue of the gospel.  It is as if stories of heroic sacrifice are like compass needles drawn to the magnetic north of Christ’s heroic sacrifice.  The gospel narrative resonates with heroic virtue.  For instance:

  1. Sacrifice is a noble attribute that Jesus Christ embodies.  In Phil. 2:5-11, Paul calls it humility.  Christ surrenders himself to God and lowers himself for the sake of others.  His heroic actions are self-sacrifice and his triumph comes from God.
  2. Heroes are saviors and rescuers.  Theseus saves captives.  Christ claims the words of the prophet Isaiah; the spirit of the Lord has empowered Christ as the one who will rescue captives and set them free. (Luke 4 and 1 Peter 3)
  3. Christ’s heroism is rooted in the justice of God.  Our creator is the source of heroism and doing what is right for the sake of others.  Consider a text like Psalm 82; God champions the cause of the weak and the oppressed.  He calls his followers to be on his side.  God’s son embodies that call to do justice and leads us in that way.

Is Atonement a Game?

Every hero is tested by a challenge.  In all stories there is a system of injustice, a threat, or a fight that must take place.  What challenge could God or the son of God come across that would be a threat?  It is the ultimate threat to us all: the presence of evil and the corruption of sin that brings death to us all.  The problem is loaded with thorny dilemmas.  For, if the game of life is rigged, if the world as we know it is unjust, then who made it that way?  In the myths, the gods often set the rules unfairly.  However, that creates a true faith problem for us is we assume that God intends for the world to be the way it is.

If a sacrifice is demanded of Christ to satisfy justice or satisfy wrath, then whose wrath needs to be satisfied?  If we say God, then we may rightly begin to wonder what sort of God needs the sacrifice of his own son.  God should not be a bloodthirsty monster or an evil king.  That wouldn’t fit what we know about God.  Furthermore, if it takes the blood of Christ to redeem God, then what sort of God is he?

Some say that it is not God who is the problem; rather, it is Satan who has rigged the game.  He has taken us captive.  So God makes his son the bait on the hook that snares the devil.  But why play games with the devil?  If God is the greater power, then why doesn’t God just destroy Satan and save us all?

In our historical attempts to understand atonement we have developed theories to explain what happens.  If we are honest and not defensive, we recognize that many of the more popular theories leave us wondering why God does not take a stand and fight.  Why is God playing games with the devil?

But atonement is a multi-faceted reality and there are other ways of explaining what happens.  In fact, Scripture often indicates that Christ has indeed taken a stand and put up a fight.  These Scriptures also teach us that it is not God who needs to be redeemed or be satisfied – we do.  God is not playing a game against Satan; rather he is refusing to play Satan’s game although we have often jumped into it.

Quite often, the work of God to atone for the sins of humanity is compared to similar actions in the human arena.  The dominant view in our culture has been a legal comparison.  Christ is our advocate or he takes our place in the punishment we deserve.  There is truth to this, but one view or comparison can never explain the entire process.  In other words, the analogy is helpful but one cannot take it too far because it is just an analogy.

There are other analogies.  One of the lesser recognized though biblically based views is the view of Christ as triumphant hero.  In this understanding of atonement, Christ is never a victim.  He is not an unfortunate substitute or whipping boy for humanity.  Rather, he is disarming the powers of sin, arrogance, and self-righteousness by going to the cross.  Christ is fighting the good fight on God’s terms, not ours.

Then the young hero (who was God almighty) Got ready, resolute and strong in heart. He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree, Bold in the sight of many watching men, When He intended to redeem mankind.

"Then the young hero (who was God almighty) Got ready, resolute and strong in heart. He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree, Bold in the sight of many watching men, When He intended to redeem mankind." - Image courtesy of

This view is expressed creatively in a medieval poem, The Dream of the Rood.  The poem dates from an era when such a view was much more common that it is now.  The poet has a vision of the cross (called a rood)and  witnesses what Christ does.  Christ is not weak, but he is bold by going to the cross.  The cross was the ultimate expression of humankind’s oppressive power, but  Christ exposes humankind as unjust and cruel.  It isn’t God who needs adjusting through sacrifice; rather humanity needs to be more humane!  What is shared in the poem is expressed in Scripture:  “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15)

The strength of this view is that it reminds us that the system of sacrifice is not on-going.  Christ dismantles the injustice once and for all. (Hebrews 10:12-14).  By shaming us and startling us with this bold and fearless action, we may be forever changed as a people.

We are called to be heroic and stand with Christ.

  1. Jesus does not participate in the games of sophisticated violence, revenge, and getting even.  Christ disarms our need to be more powerful and to “crucify” others in order to protect our own interests.
  2. Christ shames the powers, the people, and the culture that self-righteously justifies our idolatry of power and comfort.  He shames our attempts to scape-goat others and yet call ourselves civilized.  Because Jesus will not fight back on our terms but instead trusts in God, we are exposed as the problem.  Jesus startles us out of our delusions of civility that tell us that the corrupt things we do are somehow acceptable and necessary.  We may try to wash our hands like Pilate, but the bloodstains remain.
  3. We are called to leave the twisted labyrinths we have made and go out and join Jesus outside the city and its systems of power and self-justification (Hebrews  13:13)

This may seem like a lot to sacrifice, but what exactly are we trying to save?