How I See Jesus in Rocky Balboa

Posted on Apr 3, 2012 in Faith | 69 comments

When I say “Rocky,” a number of images may come to mind:  a drink of raw eggs, a swollen eye being razored open, some seriously impressive push-ups.  I was just a little girl when “Rocky” won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1976, but I remember “Yo, Adrian!” sweeping the nation.  Recently I watched this classic written by and starring Sylvester Stallone and was captivated by the character of Rocky Balboa.  His words and actions touched me deeply.  Especially this Holy Week, as I reflect on what Jesus endured, I see Christ in the hero of “Rocky” and am inspired to draw the comparison.

First of all, Rocky was nice.  He didn’t break someone’s thumb when commissioned to.  He tried to save a teenage girl from going down a potentially hurtful path.  And he was kind to animals.  He treated his pet turtles and fish as friends, just as he did the pet store’s dog and birds enclosed in cages.  Jesus was nice, too.  Throughout the gospels we see His compassion… from teaching and feeding thousands of hungry people to healing a woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years to taking time to save a little girl’s life (see Mark 6:34-44,  5:21-43).  But Rocky and Jesus were more than nice; they were merciful.

Rocky had been disrespected and mistreated for years by Mickey, the owner of the gym who refused to train Rocky, calling him “a bum.”  But when Rocky is chosen to fight in a highly publicized boxing match, Mickey wants part of the action.  Now that Rocky–“The Italian Stallion”–is somebody to the media, Mickey wants to be his friend.  Rocky has every reason to shun the hardened old man but instead forgives and accepts him… perhaps the ultimate form of love.

On Good Friday we recognize the sacrifice Jesus made, dying on the cross for our sins.  But this is one day of the year.  How often do we not acknowledge Jesus?  How often do we ignore our sins and that Jesus was crucified for them?  To honestly consider this drives a nail through my heart.  Yet, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…. he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8,10).  In the midst of unimaginable pain and suffering on the cross, what did Jesus say regarding those who mistreated him?  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Next, Rocky’s pursuit of Adrian, the object of his affection, is unrelenting.  The timid pet store employee hides behind eyeglasses, hats, and emotional walls that enslave her, but Rocky sees her beauty.  Nothing can stop his quest for her attention.  When he finally gets the opportunity, he says, “I wanna kiss ya–ya don’t have to kiss me back if ya don’t feel like it.”  But of course he wants her kiss.  And he gets it.  His love melts her fear, and a more intimate relationship between the two begins.

I believe Jesus pursues us with endless patience and passion, too.  As David wrote:  “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).  Jesus wants nothing less than to be our “first love” (Revelation 2:4).  As sweet as it is to watch the development of Rocky’s and Adrian’s relationship (“…she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps”), I believe it’s only a glimmer of what we experience falling in love with Jesus.  From personal experience I know He fills our every gap.

Lastly, Rocky was seriously beaten up… past the point most humans could bear.  In a contest Rocky didn’t think he could physically win, he just wanted to “go the distance.”  It was his heart which enabled him to.  Vastly more, Jesus was seriously tortured… clearly past the point any human would willingly bear.  He knew the “cup” he needed to drink, and that the outcome would be his death, yet he still “went the distance” (Mark 14:36).  Jesus did it for you and me.  His heart of love enabled him to.

When Rocky’s trial is over, all he cares about is finding his beloved and proclaiming, “I love you, I love you, I love you!”  The world watches in amazement that the battered warrior is still alive and loving.  A boxing match fades into a grander love story as Rocky and Adrian embrace.  This powerful ending signals a beautiful beginning… remind you of Anyone?

At the culmination of this Holy Week, after our formal remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion, people all over the world will celebrate that Jesus is alive!  His victory over death on Resurrection Sunday signals a new beginning–the possibility of a beautiful love story in which WE are the beloved.  “Rocky” was fabulous, but it was only a movie; Jesus is amazing, and He’s alive and real.  Whoever you are reading this, I pray you believe Jesus is calling you, desiring you, wanting to share every precious moment of life with you.  Accept His embrace–and hug Him back!  Today and forever, BELIEVE that Jesus is saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you!”

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