Thou shalt not offend anyone: BBC's Jesus is nice but dull

Thou shalt not offend anyone: BBC's Jesus is nice but dull

By Giles Fraser
14 Mar 2008

Forget Maria. How do you solve a problem like Jesus? After all, everyone has a view: well-meaning Jewish guru, dangerous heretic, son of God, charlatan. The list is endless. Mel Gibson gave us the fundamentalist's Jesus of gruesome realism: a tortured body offset by expensive LA orthodontistry (bad teeth would have been a realism too far). This year's Easter offering from the BBC - boldly scheduled for primetime on BBC1 - reaches for the other extreme and presents the inoffensive Liberal Democrat Jesus: Nick Clegg with a beard.

As with the Lib Dems, it's a bit tricky to know why anybody would follow this BBC Jesus. He's nice enough, of course. Pretty. Inclusive. Spiritual. Kind. Yet from a believer's perspective this interpretation damns the saviour of the world with faint praise. Following his BBC makeover Jesus is transformed into a sympathetic male nurse preaching the gospel of equal opportunities. Nothing wrong with that - except there really does have to be something more to explain why people abandoned jobs and families to follow him all over Galilee and into the cauldron of Jerusalem.

The strengths of this production are the flip side of its weaknesses. A great deal of mental elbow grease has gone into avoiding the charge of antisemitism that rightly dogged Gibson's nasty film. The Jewish authorities are no longer treated as cardboard cutout villains, gruff priests in big hats. That's obviously excellent. But unfortunately this version has been so designed that it couldn't upset anyone at all. And as a consequence, there is no frisson of danger or edginess, nothing that could make the hairs on the neck prick up.

This safety-first policy is most in evidence in the theology. Time and again, Jesus repeats the idea that the kingdom of God is to be found on the inside, in the heart. It's all about love. Any moment you expect him to announce that he wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. As a consequence, the political, polemical Jesus is spiritualised into oblivion.

Without the impression that Jesus was threatening revolution, it's tough to see why the story proceeds to the cross. The kingdom of God is not just an inner glow of general benevolence. Jesus believed it to be nothing less than God's reign on earth. Which is why the story "nice guy enters Jerusalem and causes chaos" makes precious little narrative or historical sense.

(c) Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney and an Ekklesia associate. This review first appeared in the Guardian and is adapted with grateful acknowledgment.

Keywords: bbc | jesus | passion
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