This is over a week old, but the SNL’s fake movie trailer Djesus Uncrossed has caused quite a hubbub.
Many were offended by this, but should they be? After all, this is basically what many American evangelical Christians think really is going to happen. Whether it is the Left Behind series or popular end-times belief, a common view is that Jesus is going to return to earth, forget all that “love your enemies” crap and begin a violent and bloody massacre of his enemies.
If anything, Saturday Night Live just pulled back the curtain (as David Henson said) to reveal what many believe.
I have had numerous conversations with Christians about ethics, nonviolence and living as a disciple of Christ. It is crystal clear that the Jesus of the gospels leaves his followers no room for violence against our enemies. Jesus commands those who come after him and claim to be his disciples to love our enemies, to take up our cross, to endlessly forgive those who harm us.
What often happens in such conversations is that someone brings up the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. The portrayal of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, riding a horse with a sword coming out of his mouth, is used to argue that Jesus is going to come back and do what Djesus Uncrossed portrayed Jesus doing. I’ve even gotten the impression that some hope they will be able to join Jesus in his slaughter of the bad guys.
There are problems here. First, since the beginning of the Christian church, the four gospels have stood at the head of the New Testament. They are given this unique position since they tell the foundational stories of the church, the stories of Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever our interpretation of Jesus is, it must begin and end with the gospels.
Following from this, the Jesus in the gospels is truly unique. Jesus confronts nearly every natural tendency we have. In an ancient world where it was often thought the favor of the gods rested on the rich and powerful, Christians claimed God visited the planet as a peasant Jewish person and suffered a criminal’s death on the cross. This is our clearest picture of God: suffering, self-sacrifice, victory through dying.
Is this really what God is like? Or was God only pretending to be like this, while the reality is that God really is the violent, crushing enemies, victory to the powerful deity that we want? What is God really like?
Love your enemies or crush them?
Forgive those who harm you or get revenge?
What is God like?
Finally, we learned in seminary that a basic principle of biblical interpretation is to interpret difficult passages in light of easier to understand ones. What this means is that Revelation should not dictate our understanding of the gospels, but instead the gospels should dictate our understanding of Revelation. Revelation is a difficult and challenging book. We could even dispute if it presents the simplistic sort of violent God most think it does. I realize that last sentence is vague and open-ended. The point is: beware of building your theology around (your interpretation of) the book of Revelation.
The lesson I take from the whole thing: Maybe rather than being offended by an SNL skit, we should be confronted with the sort of Jesus we are representing in our words and actions.
I watched the following video of Sean Hannity on Youtube, as it came up on the sidebar when I watched the SNL video.
I think Hannity misses the whole point. It is a historical fact that the prophet Muhammad led armies into battle. Thus, to portray Muhammad killing people would not be as outrageous as portraying Jesus doing the same. I imagine some Muslims would be offended over the picturing of Muhammad, as they were by the Danish cartoons. But would it be offensive to show Muhammad taking part in killing, when part of the story is that he did just this? I doubt it.
Christians lose the uniqueness of Jesus when we run away from the crucifixion and run towards revenge and retribution.