“You better slow down Joe Brown. You know God’s love will get you f*cked up quick.”
God’s love dominates Black Jesus as a recurring theme, but what it means exactly has yet to take shape in McGruder’s breakout reconceptualization of the Nazarene messiah. It’s a source of joy, an antagonist, or the sensation of euphoria brought on by consuming the inspired tomato garden. Similar to one of Jesus Christ’s iconic parables, one must step into the inner circle of Black Jesus’ crew in order to understand what God’s love is all about. But this isn’t as enticing as one would hope. There are some vague trappings of Christian doctrine here and there in the episode, but even for someone familiar with Christianity, the tenets of Black Jesus are a hodgepodge of theological positions, all from opposing denominations. God’s love and what it means are, consequently, undefined. Black Jesus’ miracle fruits of his spirit don’t quite bring the heat. Actually, they are kind of bland.
The previous episodes of Black Jesus provided excellent reconstructions of social issues going on during the life of Jesus Christ, even subtly referencing current Jesus scholarship (whether intended or not). These episodes possessed great insight into the experiences of suffering, oppressed minorities as well. They weren’t cheap complaints—begrudgingly ambiguous prods at society for the abject poverty brought upon the black man and his family. Boonie struggles with child support. Fish is an ex-con trying to reintegrate into society. Black Jesus himself is friend to sinners, drug dealers, and “losers.” What Black Jesus does best is show a bible-illiterate individual what it must have been like to roll with Jesus in the hood of ancient Palestine. “Love Thy Enemy, Part 1” derails from the heavy themes that the previous episodes dealt with and replaces them with a love-potion sub plot. Whether these events, and the conflict that develops over Black Jesus’ followers feeding the unwilling his easy goin’ tomatoes, will precipitate his passion is still uncertain, but the content of the episodes seem to point to just that. It’s not that there is nothing good to offer in “Love Thy Enemy, Part 1;” there is plenty going on in the episode that demands insight and discussion. It just feels cheap and uninspired, like a callback from a better Shakespeare play where Vic is made into an ass for loving Ms. Tudi.
The subject that dominates the episode so heavily is marijuana and its correlation to experiencing the love of God. Black Jesus and Ms. Tudi target only those that are in cannabis clubs for the reason that the desire to get high is the price of admission to experience God’s love. Exactly how a pot smoker knows that the tomato sauce serves as a praxis of Black Jesus’ ministry isn’t made clear. Therefore, the bait and switch between the weed-less tomato sauce and the weed that is expected is disingenuous on behalf of Black Jesus. Even though he touts the use of free will, by giving his tomato sauce to a weed smoker, he’s imputing the love of God onto another person without their implicit consent. Vic’s reaction to Ms. Tudi’s doping of his dinner wasn’t indicative of surprise; he didn’t communicate to Ms. Tudi that he was clearly aware that he was experiencing the effects of marijuana. Rather, he was given a superior substitute, against his will, which would also be against God’s will, and that can’t happen. The Dude does not abide by such things.
The episode’s plot, and the conceptions of weed that are articulated, are less in line with Protestant Southern Baptist Christian attitudes and more so with the Rastafarianism, a syncretic movement that hybridizes Afrocentrism with tenuous interpretations of Christian eschatology. A key doctrine of Rastafarianism is the use of cannabis, which is outlined on Wikipedia, suggesting that Rastafaris “consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to Jah. They often burn the herb when in need of insight from Jah.” There is nothing wrong with McGruder leaning on Afrocentric spirituality, especially considering the subject matter of Black Jesus and the show’s particular cultural orientation to the oppressed African Americans living in poverty across America. The problem is a matter of category. I just don’t think that Black Jesus is honestly communicating with the precepts of Rastafarianism, but is offering a lackluster gloss over the two widely divergent spiritualties. This is communicated by the awkward lovers intrigue that develops over the episode’s run time. It’s nothing new and nothing great, and takes away from the gripping social commentary undertaken in the earlier episodes of the season.
Black Jesus’ assertion that one can abuse God’s will is another tricky subject that the episode fails to execute with finesse. This is because Black Jesus leans on two opposing varieties of Christian philosophy to articulate the importance of respecting God’s will and also the autonomy of those he shares his gifts with. Christian theology outlines two perspectives of God’s will, both using the means of receiving salvation as starting positions. John Calvin proposed that God’s will encompasses everything, not unlike Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man that suggested the author being in complete control over his character. God effectively chose before spatial reality was conceived who he would love, specifically who he would forgive and welcome. Under this perspective it is impossible to resist and the tomato sauce being forwarded to the cannabis clubs illustrates God’s divine appointment to share his love with others. The opposing viewpoint forwarded by Jacobus Arminius, a student of the successor of John Calvin, is that God cannot assert his power over humans, for in doing so this would violate Man’s ability to choose whether or not they would accept God. The effects of the Fall of Man, the knowledge of good and evil, is a two edged sword. Some can choose to be good, others bad, and God is unable to violate that choice, to Man’s peril. Black Jesus suggests that giving the tomato sauce to someone unwilling to experience God’s love (the litmus test being, “would this person smoke weed? Or not?”) would violate their free will, thereby compromising Black Jesus’s mission to his community. The problem with the episode lies in the mixture of the two perspectives, each being mutually exclusive to the other. Again, this situation compromises the intentions that Black Jesus as a creative project initially evoked. The employment of the awkward love triangles that ensue only diminish the returns of what might have been another strong entry into the series.
A corrupt city politician, a maligned weed garden, and Black Jesus’s continual loss of control over his own affairs are catalyzing portentous events. “Love Thy Enemy Part 1” serves as the introduction to Black Jesus’ rising political influence and presence in the community. If the earlier episodes were analogous to Jesus’ early ministry, “Love Thy Enemy” marks the beginning of Jesus’ expanding influence over the regional centers surrounding Jerusalem. Black Jesus isn’t going away by any means. Now he has to be dealt with. It’s unfortunate that the transition between itinerant minister and mega personality was so rough in Black Jesus. Then again transitions are always difficult, even when you are the savior of the world.