The Violent Jesus

For more than 37 years Saturday Night Live has presented comedy sketches that offer up parodies of our culture and our politics. The targets of these sketches have not exempted any significant cultural or political targets. Targets can be of any race, creed, religion, ethnicity, gender, political party, sexual orientation, education level, or even planet or origin. While that may be true, it is also true that when my group is the target of a sketch I can easily begin to feel singled out and persecuted. It was funny when they went after the Pope or the aliens (of any kind) or whoever you think deserves to be parodied. After all, those other groups offer much more opportunity for parody and therefore deserve their place in the satirical bullseye much more than do I or my group. Let me insert at this point that, personally, I would not be comfortable making fun of the religious views or practices of any group no matter how wrong or bizarre I thought them to be. I just don’t think that is a kind thing to do and I doubt that ridiculing any group or any belief system is the way to get the adherents to that system to seriously reflect on their beliefs. So if Lorne Michaels had called me and asked for my opinion on presenting a skit that aired recently, I would have said I didn’t think that would be a very kind thing to do. But then, SNL is about making money for NBC, not about being kind. So they aired a two-minute sketch recently entitled, “DJesus Uncrossed.” In spite of the title, the sketch is not a parody of Jesus or of Christianity but rather of the director Quentin Tarrantino whose most recent film, Django Unchained, had been nominated for some Academy Awards. The sketch imagines how Tarantino might do a movie about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In the sketch, Jesus emerges from the tomb and we are told, “He’s back, and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness!” As a ninja he attacks and slices up a group of Roman soldiers. Peter (as Brad Pitt in Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds) tells the apostles that they are going to do one thing: kill Romans. Pontius Pilate is terrified. A shotgun toting-Jesus blows a hole in Judas. The point being that a typical Tarantino’s version would be the gory revenge exacted by Jesus upon his return from the dead.

As expected, there was a firestorm of protest from those who thought the sketch went far over the line of propriety. The fact that the target of this particular sketch was Tarantino, not Jesus, was either missed or ignored by these critics. Or (and much more likely, in my opinion) it inadvertently touched a deep longing in the heart of many believers who actually desire a Jesus like the one portrayed in the sketch. Many of us actually prefer the un-crossed version of Jesus to the crucified version. We prefer the SNL version of the Jesus who comes back take names and kick some butt. Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington and a self-described “charismatic Calvinist” is no stranger to controversial statements. He has said or written the following on several occasions: “There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some (want) to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” Online comments show great support for Driscoll’s views among contemporary Christians. In his blog, Jordan Hall echoes Driscoll, “My Jesus says ‘if you don’t have a weapon, it’s time to sell your coat and buy one.” If this is the view of Jesus that one holds, and many do, then there is not question as to why one would be offended by the SNL sketch. That version of Jesus is exactly the one created by the gory, violent mind of Quentin Tarantino.

Here’s my problem. Theologically I am virtually the polar opposite of Driscoll. The first time I saw the SNL sketch, however, I was astonished and somewhat frightened by something inside me that wanted to stand up and shout, “Yes! You go, Jesus!” Revenge just feels so good. Good enough that we can find many ways to justify it. Making violators responsible for their actions. Holding people accountable. Justice requires it. Culture supports it. Must be okay. Unless I am serious about following the teachings of Jesus. He may have told his disciples it was time to sell their coats and buy a weapon, but I think that was more warning of the opposition they faced than a literal call to use their credit cards. When confronted with the possibility of actually using such a weapon — even in his own defense — Peter is told to put away his sword because doing so leads to death. Love your enemies. Grant forgiveness rather than extracting revenge. Oppose evil wherever you confront it, but do it non-violently. Be creative. Jesus’ message was that love and forgiveness and non-violence are ultimately more powerful than hate and revenge and violence. But, we argue, it got him crucified. Yes, it did. And that’s why that voice still lurks somewhere in my mind and soul. But that is still what Jesus believed and what he called his followers to do. He never told them to “kill all the Romans they could.” He never told them to avenge his death. All sounds pretty wussie (one of Driscoll’s frequently used, disparaging terms for people who see Jesus as I do). If Tarantino, Driscoll, and much of contemporary Christianity has it right, then Jesus had it wrong. Did he? Or maybe he was just kidding about all that non-violence stuff. I and each of you reading this must decide which version of Jesus is the real thing and which is the counterfeit. What do you think? It makes all the difference in the world.

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