The world is imploding. The Middle East is like a pit of snakes feeding on one another; licenses to kill black males have been taken out by one too many murdering thugs in uniform; the American justice system is under threat from right-wingers and other nut jobs; Africa is being consumed by the hungry Ebola virus; Mother Nature is rearranging the Earth’s temperature and terrain.
And a black Jesus has taken up residence in Compton, Calif. It’s the same Jesus who promised 2,000 years ago to return to save us – again?
Problem is, He never said where and under what set of circumstances He would come back.
I think it is brilliant for the creators of this modern satire to have placed him in the epicenter of what is wrong with almost everything in Western society: a large American inner city which, despite being surrounded by wealth, suffers from poverty; a society of general permissiveness marked by rampant substance use and relaxed sexual exchanges; where racial tensions and gang wars between the least of these is a daily reality; where homelessness has become part of the street enterprising hustle; in a food desert surrounded by the nation’s bread basket; and where countless other “sins” are played out on the small screen. You recall the Sermon on the Mount? Welcome to Mount Compton.
Also, it is brilliant that the writers have Jesus walking amongst the people – again – and taking on their ways in order to teach them the truth. Which people? God’s people, all. Black Jesus tells his followers that he is the son but God is in charge. He calls him “Pop.”
So far, I have watched only three episodes and, quite frankly, I hear Black Jesus delivering the same message that is preached across the wide spectrum of Christian churches. (I have attended many, am a member of none but I claim to be Catholic.)
Black Jesus repeatedly reminds those who are following him that he is there to (continue) to teach them how to love one another. He is anti-violence and he is reluctant to perform any miracles just for their entertainment value. But he is not hesitant to show them that he has the power from his father to use when it is necessary for the lesson.
I admit I loved the first miracle shown of Black Jesus turning beer into cognac. But he withheld it when he realized that his followers were not paying attention to his word; they just wanted to party.
The appearance of black Jesus startles. In the show, he towers over everyone else: he is a very large, black man wearing robes and a straight-to-the shoulder wig. In Compton, or anywhere, he would stand out, for not fitting in. To me, that is the point of his costume and appearance. It is told that the historical Jesus was, during his trial by Rome, draped in a robe and crown of thorns as a mockery to his claim to the kingdom.
It is told that he was also mocked during his missionary years for daring to identify himself as a rabbi, in part because he shunned the refined dress of the ruling class of rabbis at that time.
Moving past his jarring appearance – if you know your history, Jesus of the Bible would look like the Palestinians we see on television every day – I have been listening to the message in this edgy and controversial television series.
Critics have been quick to abuse the writers of their genius in portraying Jesus as black man in robes in Compton, smoking, drinking and using the vernacular of his constituents. But isn’t that what Jesus of Nazareth did during His brief missionary life which was so eloquently told in the King James version of the New Testament? Remember how Jesus was harshly criticized by the leaders of the temple for being common, for going against the grain of their established teaching about cleansing rituals, for example?
But, then, again, that’s how Jesus got His followers: from among those who had been neglected by society, those who had been shut out of the temples, those who were on the edges of society and even on the wrong side of the law, including women of questionable morals: there are many examples illustrated throughout the New Testament.
In fact, the largest and most celebrated of Jesus’s followers, Saul/Paul, was a professed murderer who got turned around by a blinding light of faith and who went on to found the Christian theology that most of the western world practices today. Have you read Paul’s Epistles lately? So why not put Jesus in 21st century Compton, California, for His second coming?
Where would be better place for Him to return? Perhaps Ferguson, Missouri, U.S.A.? Your own town? Your church, mosque or synsgogue?
How about your pious, unblemished mind?
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org