The latest version of Jesus is pleasant, jovial, friendly and weed-smoking. And there’s a number of good Christians that are up in arms about it.
Senior pastor Kerry Buckly says, "It was horrible, disgusting and completely offensive. Down to a person, everyone in the youth group was offended. It just shows where we are a nation. … We have no respect for God.” And that’s just after watching the trailer.
Certainly the first episode had a number of questionable activities. Jesus is living a party life, living in a van, partaking in weed and he hosts parties where he’s not welcome. He’s a moocher, he participates in illegal activity, and is arrested. The first episode also diminishes Jesus’ death by having a character say, “Yeah, that was 2014 years ago, that's old.”
But if this portrayal of Jesus is problematic with the modern church, then I suspect that they wouldn’t much care for the original Jesus.
Because that Jesus travelled from town to town, going to one party after another. He described the kingdom of heaven a number of times as a “feast” (which is just another name for party). In Luke 14, Jesus uses a party as an illustration of the kingdom of God at least three times. And he says this while at a party.
The original Jesus was homeless, of course, having “nowhere to lay his head.” He was poor, and a mooch, because he held his parties in other people’s homes. One example is Zacchaeus in Luke 19, where Jesus just tells him that he’s having a party at his home. Often Jesus held parties in places where he wasn’t welcome, such as Simon the Pharisee, where Jesus insulted his host because he wasn’t fawning enough (Luke 9).
What about weed? Jesus certainly didn’t smoke weed, did he? Some more religious cannabis users want to show Jesus smoking janga, but since weed didn’t grow in the Middle East in the ancient world, that didn’t happen. However, Jesus was about drinking wine. A lot of it. The good stuff, which is the more fermented kind. He was known as a “drunkard”. My more conservative friends say that Jesus never got drunk, but there certainly isn’t any evidence for that. He certainly hung around with people who were drunk. And really, what is the difference between alcohol and weed except that alcohol is more likely to make you violent?
Sure, Jesus is a moocher in the episode, but he gives as much as he takes, sometimes more. He is seen as a joyful, generous, miracle-working man, trying to encourage everyone to be kind, compassionate and at peace with each other. The statement about his death is called into question by the end of the episode because in the end Jesus helps everyone
So what really is the problem with Black Jesus? It’s the same problem religious leaders had with the original Jesus—he is on the wrong cultural side of the tracks. Religious folks are naturally conservative, always trying to reach back to a better time in which people were more polite, less irresponsible, more moral and generally safer. It doesn’t matter that this time never existed. But in general, religious folks like order. They want to squelch any attempt at chaos or irresponsibility.
But Jesus was irresponsible. He quit his job, left his family (even though he was responsible for his widowed mother), travelled from home to home with a number of disreputable men and women(!). Jesus had no regular income and encouraged his disciples to live off other people’s charity.
And Jesus was chaotic. Sure, he talked about God’s will, but he was always tearing at the institutions of his day, whether the priesthood, the temple or even the law. He challenged the political and economic institutions of his day and encouraged a sort of anarchy.
Let’s face it, the original Jesus, just like Black Jesus is an affront to middle class, reputable morality. Religious people just can’t handle that. So they will talk about how “blasphemous” Black Jesus is. When really what they find blasphemous is the original Jesus, just like the religious institutions did 2000 years ago.
As for me (and the people in my congregation), I’d much rather hang out with Black Jesus than the Jesus that they have in their churches. Constantly dying, rule-making, stern and institutional. Mind you, I would find Black Jesus to be a bit more like the original Jesus if he’d talk about sacrifice and humility as well as joy and love. But I’m willing to give the show a chance. It’s a pretty good start.