Much Ado about Djesus
When I was a kid, we weren’t allowed to watch Saturday Night Live. It’s not just that it was on past our bedtimes, our parents thought that many of the skits were inappropriate and offensive. We kids didn’t watch it, and they didn’t watch it either!
Now that I’m all grown up and have my own TV, I call the shots a little looser than they did. My wife and I like to watch SNL and I really can’t think of a time I’ve ever been actively offended by a skit that I saw. Bored? Sure. Put off? Not really.
This past week, though, many people believe that SNL crossed that line that they have been so close to in the past. You’ve probably seen the “Djesus Uncrossed” video by now (a parody of the Quentin Tarantino movie “Django Unchained”) in which Jesus rolls back the stone and takes his bloody revenge on those responsible for his crucifixion. It’s a bit of a departure from the real story of Easter, but people have said “Django Unchained” is a departure from the real story of slavery, so I guess that’s part of the bit!
The weird thing is, I wasn’t really offended by the video. Maybe it’s because it was built up so much before I watched it, or maybe it’s because I’m losing my sensitivity to these things, but the whole thing was just so over the top I couldn’t really connect it to the Jesus I believe in. For Christians, Easter is all about the resurrection itself being the victory. That’s the revenge right there! SNL can’t really ruin something as big as the resurrection with some fake blood and bullets, because Jesus already got his revenge, over death itself, simply by coming back to life.
The real question that I was left asking after watching the video was this: can we imagine a spoof of MLK grabbing some guns and taking his revenge on white people in the south? Or Ghandi picking up a sword against the British over in India? Or even Mother Theresa bashing in heads with a baseball bat in the jungles of Cambodia? All of those scenarios would seem a little strange because the first thing we associate those three figures with was their peace; the ethic of non-violent resistance that permeated everything they did and taught. A parody featuring a violent Ghandi just wouldn’t make any sense. Which begs the question: what have we done to Jesus?
Now, regardless of your beliefs, Jesus is a pretty important historical figure. Billions of people have lived and died with him at the center of their lives, and no matter which way you cut it, that’s a big deal. But when billions of people claim the name of Jesus, it can get a little confusing to figure out just what exactly it is that name means. There have been wars fought over his name and people hurt in his name. Lives changed in his name and wounds healed because of his name. It’s a complicated legacy for what seems to be a fairly straightforward life.
If we take the Biblical account seriously (at least historically) we see that Jesus was born poor, grew up poor, and died poor. We have a lot of records of him healing people and none of him hurting anyone. Some people like to talk about the temple incident where he drives swindlers out of the temple with a whip, but nowhere does it say that Jesus physically harmed anybody. Jesus gave away food and money, time and attention. He spoke kindly to people who society hated and had some tough words for the powers that be. And when they arrested him, he rebuked his right hand man, Peter, for using violence to defend him. He went peacefully instead.
Whichever way you cut it, Jesus didn’t seem to have much desire for power, money, or revenge. His message, though, was powerful enough to launch an entire movement that eventually became the largest religion in the world. And with a message like that, it was only a matter of time before it got co-opted by the powerful, the wealthy, and those seeking revenge. And so Jesus’ name gets exploited. And so we get Djesus Uncrossed.
But that’s why I’m not offended. The caricature portrayed in SNL wasn’t Jesus, it was the projected image of Jesus that has been created by those eager to accumulate money and power. Religious people. Political people. Really, just people. For Christians who take Easter seriously, “Djesus” shouldn’t be offensive. Instead, it should offer some time to reflect on how we came to be where we are today, and how we can start to reclaim the real Jesus behind the name.