The Super Bowl has come and gone, its final score to be celebrated by some, forgotten by most. But before that fateful Sunday fades from view, a message from that day deserves a replay.
Two commercials aired during the Super Bowl that spoke of Jesus to say that “He gets us.” The worldwide evangelization took just ninety seconds, yet cost $20 million.
The organization sponsoring those ads publicly admits having an agenda, namely, to counteract the cultural climate in which people with opposing views on social issues hate those on the other side, considering them to be not just wrong but “enemies.” It’s the mindset that thinks being right requires a fight.
It’s also the mentality that Jesus decries in the Gospel. Jesus hated no one. Ever. Not even now. He gets us.
But Jesus also seeks a radical reversal. Without mincing words, He makes his message clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you … When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” He makes the image a mandate when He follows up with “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:38-39,44).
Decades ago, scholars in The Jesus Seminar reckoned those verses to be among the most authentic of Jesus’s many sayings — precisely because they are so radical and revolutionary. Does Jesus actually mean what He says? Yes — quite literally.
That he gets us is not the only Good News. That he tells us is not the only authentic saying. The real joy of the Gospel is that he shows us.
Faced with the inhumanity of undeserved suffering, Jesus demonstrates God’s passionate love for all people. Slapped repeatedly, mocked endlessly, and scourged painfully, Jesus does not resist or retaliate. He turns the other cheek. Strung up on a cross to die the most ignoble of deaths, his own words fulfill his mandate: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus does get us and has given us the quintessential Christian approach to life in this world: “Love your enemies.”
That’s not to say that Jesus forsakes justice, which remains essential for the good order of any society. But holding wrongdoers accountable does not require that we hate them.
Hatred, like love, comes from within, as an attitude of the heart that leads to a choice. Following the Master’s words, Christians are called to choose love, even with hatred so evidently all around us. That’s the only way to break the chain of evil, as Pope Francis once explained.
But that chain won’t break because of two Super Bowl ads. In fact, reactions to the commercials show what a long way the Christian story still has to go. One major media outlet claimed “it is precisely this trope that outrage is bad, and one must suppress it, that hints to what is so wrong with these ads.” A prominent legislator tweeted that the sponsors contributed “millions to make fascism look benign.”
Beyond advertising, real change comes when the way of the cross becomes the road to victory. The Jesus who gets us, who tells us and shows us that road, also empowers us to travel it. We do so first by recognizing the magnanimity of God toward ourselves, seeing in Jesus the Son of God who died for the salvation of all. We then make progress along the way by practicing the Gospel: “love your enemies.”
No doubt, we may not really hate anyone or have any sworn enemies. But the urge to retaliate and avenge lies deep within us all. It shows itself when we are insulted and want to argue, when our character is maligned and we stand to defend ourselves, when we are injured or hurt and think that “someone should pay.”
Each is a natural reaction, unsurprising or even welcomed by the world. Still, we have a choice: resist or receive, fight back or forgive, hate or love.
Lent reminds us of the Christian choice. So, if you want to give something up, do without revenge. Instead, pray for your persecutors — someone who opposes you or hurts your friends or brings harm to the world. Choose an “enemy” each day and pray for them. Pray for them by name. Pray for them genuinely. Pray for peace to prevail.
“He gets us” offered Super Bowl viewers a thought-provoking ad campaign. The real question offered by Lent is — do we get him?
Oblate Father Thomas Dailey holds the John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.