By Luke Moon (@lukemoon1)
Once again we have an opportunity to respond to an irreverent portrayal of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Over the weekend, NBC’s Saturday Night Live had a skit featuring Jesus as an angry killer dutifully exacting revenge on Romans who crucified him. This revenge fantasy supposedly flows from the violent mind of Quentin Tarantino, who most recently brought us “Django Unchained.”
The reaction so far seems all too predictable. From the Religious Right comes the American Family Association calling on people to write the sponsors of the SNL–Sears, Kmart, and JC Penny–to let them know how outraged we are that they funded the mockery of Jesus. From the Religious Left comes Kurt Willems and others who seem convinced that this “American gun-slinging Jesus” is the result of militant Christendom–otherwise known as those who support the right to self-defense.
While it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy, I think it is important to keep a few things in mind as we process what pop-culture burps up.
First of all, the reason people will laugh at this skit is precisely because it is outrageous to think of Jesus ever doing something like this. That speaks a lot about how the general public views Jesus. People know that Jesus did not go around killing his enemies but commands his followers to love their enemies. People also know that Jesus did not lead a rebellion against Rome, but against the darkness of this world. I hope people have heard that Jesus did not kill or abandon those who abandoned him, but offers restoration and forgiveness–then and now.
Rather than take the time and effort to show how offended we are at the portrayal of Jesus as revenge-seeking murderer, why not take the moment of airtime to affirm what makes this skit humorous. This is an opportunity to say, “Yes, the reason this is funny is because Jesus would not do something like this. In fact his words to those who were crucifying him were, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.’” This is who Jesus is and that’s the Jesus people need to know.
Secondly, this is not such a bad depiction of how many of Jesus’ disciples thought that he would act. Many of the Jews were looking for someone who would lead the much-anticipated violent rebellion against Rome. Alan Storkey in his book, “Jesus and Politics,” writes of the political climate in the first century, “In Jesus’ time the nationalist [also known as Zealots] perspective was strong and burned in the hatreds and hopes of the ordinary people. The tax burden, Roman and Herodian soldiers, Herod’s viciousness and the disrespect of Roman culture for the Jewish God—all of these rankled the Jews.” In fact thirty years after the death of Jesus these Zealots would lead a revolt the sparked the Jewish War. While Jesus himself was not aligned with the Zealots, one of his disciples carried the title Simon the Zealot.
Lastly, the writers and cast of SNL have a constitutional right to offend me. The freedom of speech that we enjoy includes the freedom to be offensive. Christians, although the easiest and most popular targets of mockery and humiliation, should be the strongest advocates for this freedom. The message of the gospel is offensive to those who hate us most.
Recently, another short film was made depicting Muhammad as a murderous and perverse man. The riots throughout the world and especially in the Middle East led many liberal pundits to proclaim that it was time to place limits on the freedom to offend. The murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans at the consulate in Bengazhi, Libya was blamed on the maker of the film rather than the murderers. Now, I will refrain from stating the obvious contrast between the reaction to Djesus Uncrossed and the Life of Muhammad. But in both instances the right to offend must be protected. If the filmmaker is denied the right to offend Muslims, or SNL is denied the right to offend Christians, then it won’t be long before I am denied the right to be offensive. Don’t think I am exaggerating here. In 2010, a Christian street preacher was arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin, and just last year a street preacher was nearly arrested for preaching on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
So what do we do when Jesus is mocked? Let’s follow the advice of St. Paul, “Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”