Jesus the football player

Whatever You Do, Don’t Learn Your Theology from Super Bowl Ads

In Super Bowl season’s glamour, advertisers pull out all the stops amidst the crowd’s roar and anticipation of the big game. They employ sensationalist tactics to sell us things we often don’t need, weaving narratives designed to captivate and convince. Yet, it’s not just products they’re selling; sometimes, it’s a worldview, a theology, neatly packaged in a 30-second spot. This was strikingly evident in a recent Super Bowl ad that offered a simple yet profound theological statement, “Jesus didn’t teach hate; he washed feet.” 

That seems accurate! Besides claiming that he was the truth, the way, the life, and the only mediator between God and humankind, he also says plenty of things that could hardly be considered “hateful.” 

According to Jesus, loving him means following his commandments (John 14:15; John 15:10). Many of those commandments ordered people to repent and turn from their sinful ways (Matthew 4:17). Many others called people to abstain from sexual sin (John 8:11, Matthew 5:27-28), not to retaliate or seek vengeance (Matthew 5:38-44), to uphold faithfulness in marriage (Matthew 19:4-6, 9), and to abide in him at all cost, (John 15:4-5). Jesus shows love for us by opposing our sinful practices rather than condoning them. Sometimes, his love was gentle and kind. Other times, his love led him to flip some tables. Indeed, Jesus didn’t teach hate!

In light of the all-consuming love of Christ, how are we to interpret Jesus’ feet washing? What does Scripture teach about such practice? First, we must understand the context. In ancient Palestine, washing another’s feet was typically performed by servants or enslaved people. However, within the Christian tradition, foot washing is not a unilateral sign of servanthood. Instead, it is a profound statement of submission to the one who performs it and the ones who receive it. That is why it was a rite Jesus performed exclusively for his disciples. 

When Peter resisted Jesus washing his feet, Jesus responded, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8), indicating that foot washing was not just an act of service but a required sign to belong to his community. This kind of service was not indiscriminate, lacking moral discernment. Instead, it was a mark of belonging to a congregation committed to obeying Jesus and recognizing his authority over their lives, even if it meant torture and physical death. 

But why would anyone want to assassinate someone who did not teach hate but washed feet? Why have entire empires dedicated their resources to persecuting those who uphold Jesus’ teachings? Why would anyone want to spend millions of dollars on a 30-second ad that obscures the depth and complexity of the moral nuances embedded in an ancient faith? 

The answer is straightforward. Those who, throughout history, embraced Jesus’ invitation to follow him faced persecution for upholding a faith that deviated from ideologies spoused by the empire of the day, whether these were religious, social, economic, or sexual practices.  

Two millennials, after the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, Christians still need to grapple with commercial appropriations of their faith. Make no mistake, the Super Bowl ad was not meant for unbelievers. It was not an evangelistic tool. It was instead an effort to promote an American-friendly version of Christianity that is all-inclusive, morally stagnant, and theologically naive. 

Don’t let a million-dollar ad on Super Bowl Sunday fool you. It might prevent you from learning about a more problematic Jesus. One who clearly told us to enter by the narrow gate; for narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and few find it.

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