Before the latest episode of The Simpsons aired on Sunday, March 28 (Palm Sunday and the day before Passover), the show’s producer, Al Jean, promised, “people of all three religions will be equally offended.”
He was right. The episode, in which the Simpsons visit Jerusalem, offended me as a Jew and as a believer in Jesus (I am both), and, if I were a Muslim, I’m sure I would have been offended as well.
Not that the show wasn’t very funny at times. The airplane carrying the Simpsons to Israel smashes a wine glass as it touches down on the runway. They stay at the Wailing Waldorf. Their Israeli tour guide escorts them in a van labeled “Chosen People Movers.” Homer’s Christian neighbor, Ned Flanders, goes to a movie, The Reformers (a takeoff on The Transformers), in which two Jewish transformers are about to do battle when one says, “We can’t transform on the Sabbath. Let us power down and contemplate the Torah.” And they do.
I won’t bother to detail the more offensive jokes and comments. Suffice it to say that the writers didn’t run jokes by clergy from any of the Abrahamic faiths.1
I’m far more concerned about the misimpressions the show gives about Jewish and Christian belief. When Krusty the Klown, who is Jewish, tells Lisa Simpson that he doesn’t want to go to hell, she tells him, “Jews don’t believe in hell.” While that may be true of many modern-day Jews, it hardly speaks of a significant minority. Author Simcha Paull Raphael notes that “rabbinic literature does assert that certain classes of sinners are eternally condemned to Gehenna [hell]”2
Even more disturbing to me were the words of Ned Flanders, who invites the Simpsons on the trip to Israel in the hope of redeeming Homer. When Ned finally loses patience with Homer in the Holy Land, he says, “I believe every soul has the possibility of salvation. At least, I thought so till now. Homer Simpson, you are not worth saving!“
Those words hurt Homer, but Ned never apologizes. That bothered me even more.
The good news of the Bible is that although we all have sinned (and, in that sense, none of us are worth saving), God demonstrated his love for us by sending Yeshua (Jesus) to die for our sins. So we have much worth to God.
A common misconception is that we can somehow make ourselves good enough to be accepted by God. That is as impossible for the “Ned Flanders” of this world as it is for the “Homer Simpsons.”
This is a holy week on both the Jewish and Christian calendars. And that makes it a good time to reflect on the Lamb of God who, if we will receive him, makes us acceptable to God. Jesus (Yeshua), claimed to be the once-and-for all Passover sacrifice who not only died but rose from the dead! Happy Pesach! And Happy Resurrection too!