Jesus with his hand on a gun or on our shoulder? I am not easily offended, but when I saw the clip from Saturday Night Live’s February 16th TV show, I was shocked. I encourage you to take a look, but be warned: it is graphic and disturbing.
Christoph Waltz hosted SNL that night. He is the star of the two recent Quentin Tarantino movie hits Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained and winner of an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in last night’s Academy Awards. Both movies are what could be called historical fantasy, movies that fancifully right historical wrongs. Tarantino avenges the Holocaust in Inglourious Basterds, and in Django Unchained he corrects the grave injustice of slavery.
The SNL crew decided to film a “trailer” for a third movie in this “rewriting of history,” calling it DJesus Uncrossed.
In the trailer Jesus is pictured as bursting out of his grave on Easter Sunday with the cross strapped to his back, the crown of thorns on his head, and a double barreled assault rifle in his hands. The difference is that it’s not soldiers or former slaves who are exacting vengeance. It’s Jesus.
“He’s risen from the dead…and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness,” says the announcer as Christoph Waltz, dressed as Jesus, kills a number of Romans with a sword.
The “movie” also features “Brad Pitt” as St. Peter, who recruits apostles to help Jesus in the violent effort. “I need me eleven apostles. We’re going to be doing one thing, and one thing only: killing Romans,” says Peter in imitation of Pitt’s speech from Inglourious Basterds. “The Roman will be disgusted by us, the Roman will talk about us, and the Roman will fear us. Each one of you owes me 100 Roman scalps!”
“Samuel L. Jackson” appears as Judas Iscariot, along with “Ving Rhames” as Pontius Pilate.
At the end of the clip Jesus (Waltz) says to Judas while pointing a large gun at him, “When you get to heaven, say hi to my Dad.”
After riddling Judas with bullets he proclaims, “No more Mr. Nice Jesus.”
Of course, if you haven’t seen the other two movies and know nothing about Tarantino’s historical fantasies, seeing this “movie trailer” out of context seems sacrilegious and makes little sense. The very thought of someone making a movie about the resurrected Jesus seeking divine retribution on those who killed him is contrary to everything that Christianity is about.
If anything, DJesus Uncrossed prompts us to think about how we live out our faith. DJesus Uncrossed is actually a fascinating parody about Lent and Easter as well as about the teachings of Jesus, because everything shown in this two minute trailer is antithetical to who Jesus was and who we are called to be. Jesus’ hand is not on a gun, it’s on our shoulder. Where is your hand?
When I spent a week at the ecumenical Christian community of Taize, France, twelve years ago, I found the large Church of Reconciliation filled with icons. Meditating on an icon became a helpful tool to connect with God.
The word for “icon” in Greek is eikon, which means “image.” In Colossians 1:15, Paul refers to Jesus as the image of the invisible God. In its diminutive form, eikon also means “portrait.” Jesus is the portrait of God. The earliest icons were pictorial images of Christ, portraits of God, if you will. The purpose of an icon is to represent Christ in such a way that something of the invisible God is made known to us.
One particular icon caught my attention. Christ and Mena is one of the oldest icons in the world, dating from the seventh century. Discovered buried in the sand in Egypt in the nineteenth century, Christ and Mena hangs today in the Louvre.
In the icon, Jesus is on the right standing next to Abbot Mena who was the superior of the monastery of Bawit in Egypt. After Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 313 A.D., Christians desiring to imitate Jesus left Roman society to isolate themselves in huts, tombs, caves, and holes. Egypt became the cradle of Christian monasticism
At Taize, this icon is called Christ and the Believer because it is easy to imagine that Abbot Mena represents any disciple. Jesus has his right arm around Mena’s shoulder in a simple gesture of love and friendship. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’m with you, friend. I love you. You can do it. I have your back. Go for it!”
Jesus holds the scriptures and Mena grasps a small scroll, perhaps demonstrating that a little bit of understanding is enough to go forward with Christ. Jesus and Mena both have halos, signifying that Jesus communicates holiness to the disciples, but Jesus’ halo has a cross. While Jesus’ mouth is closed, Mena’s mouth is open. Perhaps he is bearing witness to Christ.
Most interesting is that both Jesus and the believer are facing the same direction. They are not looking at each other. At Taize, the brothers and the congregation also face in the same direction. This is intentional. It’s a statement that we are all looking in a common direction – inward into the mystery of God and outward in service to the world. A replica of Christ and the Believer sits next to my meditation chair at home. It’s a reminder that Jesus walks beside me every day with his hand on my shoulder. But it also asks the question, “Where is your hand?”
Jesus with his hand on a gun or Jesus with a hand on our shoulder? Both Jesuses are touching objects with their hands, but one carries a weapon of death and the other offers a healing touch. Both Jesuses carry crosses, but one uses the cross as an opportunity for revenge and the other bears the cross as a symbol of a suffering servant. Both Jesuses harken back to historical wrongs, but one models violence while the other shows only mercy. Both are icons, one deliberately portraying a “No More Mr. Nice Jesus” who lives and dies by the sword and the other revealing the true character of the God who fights injustice with love. And both Jesuses teach us, asking us to look into our own hearts and wrestle with our faith.
In the end, DJesus Uncrossed and Christ and the Believer reveal a portrait of ourselves as much as they reveal or parody the living God. Where is your hand? Which Jesus will we follow? Do our hands hold the guns of destroying community, holding on to bitterness, clutching our golden calves, or taking out those who “cross us”? Or are our hands gently touching the spirits of the very least of God’s children with encouragement, hope, grace, and servanthood?
The truth is that every day you and I struggle with our thoughts, words, and actions. Some days we are icons, portraits of God. Other days we are “No More Mr. Nice Jesus” and do violence to others. During this Lenten season my prayer is that as Jesus walks beside us, hand on our shoulder, he will empower us to go the extra mile, forgive the unforgivable, witness to the unending love of God in Jesus Christ, and place our hand on the shoulders of others.
Lord, come be near us today.
Lord, keep your hand on our shoulders.
Lord, when we are tested, stay beside us.
Lord, may we be your portraits of love.
Lord, place our hands on the shoulders of others.