The Bread of Life: Jesus in ‘The Hunger Games’

[ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 19, 2011]

Nancy and I both read The Hunger Games during our family vacation last week. It’s a great summer read and has all the ingredients I love in literature: it’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and allegorical. I could do without the teenage love triangle dramas, and the many grammatical errors are a distraction, but overall this is fun, rich reading.

Naturally, I’m always looking for the Christ figure when I read novels. (The farm boy in Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych is still my favorite one). When I began reading The Hunger Games, I saw Katniss as the Christ figure. When her weak little sister is chosen as a participant in the death game, Katniss sacrificially substitutes herself and takes her place. This is very similar to the way the Bible describes what Jesus did on the cross: he died in our place.

Sacrificial as her act of substitution was, there is a more compelling Christ figure in this book. Consistently, the baker’s son, named Peeta (think pita bread) behaves like Jesus. In the first scene we encounter him, he throws a loaf of bread to Katniss, who is starving. For his act of kindness, which cost his family both money and pride, his mother strikes him in the face. The loaf of bread saved Katniss’ life, and nearly cost Peeta his. He paid the price for her life. The next day at school, Katniss can see his wounds. She

“passed by the boy in the hall, his cheek had swelled up and his eye had blackened.”

This is a correlative to the Christ story as described in the suffering servant narrative in Isaiah 53:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed

Katniss, her belly full of life-giving bread, observed the boy’s scars and was reminded of his sacrifice for her. This is very much like our experience of eating the bread at the Communion table.

And there is more. The baker’s son continues his Christlikeness during the death games. Everything he does is designed to lift up Katniss and give her life. His love for her is unyielding. Even as he risks his own life by freeing her from danger, he can’t stop himself from looking at her, his beloved. Later we learn that he has been looking at her ever since the first day they met, when they were five years old. He remembers what she wore that day. He remembers everything about her because he loves her without condition, even to the point of death.

In the arena, he is in fact left for dead by his oppressors. He buries himself in mud (“low in the grave he lay”) until his beloved comes searching for him, just like the women who entered the garden tomb, looking for Jesus. At first she doesn’t see him, she only hears his voice.

“Peeta?” I whisper. “Where are you?” There is no answer. Could I just have imagined it? No, I’m certain it was real and very close at hand, too.
“Peeta?” I creep along the bank.
“Well, don’t step on me.”
I jump back. His voice was right under my feet. Still there’s nothing. Then his eyes open, unmistakably blue in the brown mud and green leaves. I gasp and am rewarded with a hint of white teeth as he laughs. [See John 20]

After Katniss cleans and embraces her resurrected savior, the two climb into a cave where they are buried together for three days. Using a large stone (I’m not making this up!) to seal the entrance, they are safe from harm. In the cave their love grows, until both are healed physically and their relationship is intensely intimate.

In the same way, our relationship with God grows from within the grave of our Savior. His sacrifice was an outgrowth of his unyielding love for us. “By his wounds we are healed”, and, as we’ve studied previously together on this blog, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” [See Romans 6]

Like Peeta, Jesus hasn’t just offered us some earthly bread to keep us alive for a day at school. Out of his great love for us, he has gone much further than that. He has died in our place. And profoundly, he invites us to die with him (to spend those days in his tomb with him!) in order that our sinful selves might die along with him, and so that we might join with him in his new life.

Look around you. Do you see the human condition? Do you see how we kill each other with our words and our wars? These are the hunger games. But we need not starve and we need not kill. The Bread of Life feeds us and has saved us from ourselves.

So “take, eat, remember and believe. This is Christ’s body, which is given for you.”

PS. I encourage you to read The Hunger Games and look for all of the occasions when people break bread together. Look for the unstoppable love of Peeta for his beloved. See Jesus in him. The book is difficult to read because at the center of the plot is such a an unthinkable act, namely children killing each other. But as I’ve pointed out, is it so unlike our cannibalistic sinful nature? And with such awful darkness as the backdrop, the Christlikness of Peeta shines even more brightly.

8 comments

    • Nathan

      Thanks Jonathan. Yes, I’ve already begun Catching Fire. So far, too much love triangle drama! But I do see where the plot is heading… cool.

      Have you read them?

      • jonathan

        My wife and I read them just this month while traveling. MockingJay is chocked full of symbolism and tons of statements about war and death; and was my least favorite…but still fun to close up the story.

  1. Dan

    We are in a big debate about the new movie that is out. Our son is 14 and wishes to see the film with 4 or 5 of his friends from 8th grade. We have read that there is a lot of violience, children killing children, and feel that it might not be appropriate for this age group. We appreciate your review but would like your opinion on the film if you have seen it.

  2. Nathan Hart

    Hi Dan.

    Thanks for your question. I understand your struggle and appreciate your wisdom-seeking.

    This is a tough parenting decision. On the one hand, there is no value in exposing your son to violence, especially violence enacted on and by children. On the other hand, seeing the movie could create an opportunity for dialog with your son. If he has ever played video games, he’s already been exposed to gratuitous violence. And that’s what sets Hunger Games apart: the killings are precisely not gratuitous. Rather, in the context of the overall narrative, they are a commentary on our culture’s sin of viewing violence as entertainment. In the film, your son will see that the games have been established as both a repression of freedom and as a sick form of gratification for a paying, applauding crowd.

    Being in the 8th grade, your son likely won’t be able to pick up on all of these allegorical connections in the film. But if you point them out to him, you’ll be helping him create a filter through which he can discern all of culture. In other words, this film could serve as a paradigm that places all of the other violence he sees into its rightful context.

    Also, as an audience member, I felt sickened by each killing. There was no sense of gratification in any of them. You could ask your son, “How did you feel when you saw that?” And then you could tell him that death is awful and should never be used as entertainment.

    You might also have him read my thoughts above about finding Christ in the story, and dialog with him about where he saw him in the story.

    Hope this helps!
    Nathan

  3. Jennifer Underwood

    Hi Nathan, I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for your thoughts. I found it because I am in the middle of teaching a breadmaking class called “Bread of Life” in which we make bread and study bread throughout Scripture in the context of Christ telling us to eat of Him. I plan to share your article with the girls in the class. I think it will generate some great discussion and pull together some of the passages we have studied during the class. I also blog and wrote a piece on “The Hunger Games”–with a very different slant than yours. Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/the-crack-in-my-heart/ Thanks again for the post–very appreciated. Jen Underwood

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>