"Jesus Christ" by Woody Guthrie

Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, "Give your money to the poor,"
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave

He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
He told them all the same
"Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,"
And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.

When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
Everybody wondered why
It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
To nail Jesus Christ in the sky.

This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.

--lyrics to "Jesus Christ" by Woodie Guthrie (whose guitar often read "This Machine Kills Fascists")

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11 thoughts on “"Jesus Christ" by Woody Guthrie”

  1. Wasn't it the bankers (or at least tax collectors) who were the subject of Jesus' compassion?

    We can just as easily turn "bankers" into scapegoats too, and exclude them from our definition of clean society, at which point we are no close to Jesus.

  2. Found a version of this on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDS00Pnhkqk. Different lyrics, of course. Somehow I had missed this, so thanks for the tip. And for the blog overall, which I love.

  3. I read the song as being about the clash between Jesus's message and the principalities and powers. I take "banking" to be pointing to the profit motive in finance.

    Banking, like anything, can be an agent of good or ill. For example: It's a Wonderful Life. :-)

  4. I listened to Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson last night on Homebrewed Christianity podcast and she said that God always took the side of the downtrodden in scripture but we always have a tendency to think that he takes the side of the strong.

  5. Actually no, the tax collectors were nothing like our bankers. The tax collectors were Jews who worked for the roman state and as such were generally speaking looked down on by their fellow Jews.

    A much closer analog to the modern bankers are the money-changers and vendors at the temple. They took a profit by switching out the goods and coin that were available to the people for "pure" versions which would be acceptable as sacrifices. In doing so they placed themselves between the Jews and the capital necessary to sustain life (in many ways the abrahamic covenant is a transaction, the sacrifices were not just religious observances but also investments in next year's harvests) They used that position as necessary middleman to extract rents, not unlike our current banks

  6. My point is not the content of their work, but they way in which their profession was "generally" used as a justification for considering them in some way morally/socially unclean.

  7. In that case I don't quite see the relevance. In fact the song specifically says that the path for redemption was open to the bankers "He said to the rich give your money to the poor" It was their reaction to that requirement. The fact that they had to explicitly stop abusing others and make restitution for the past abuse (or at least stop enjoying the benefits of it) that caused them to kill him.

    The same is true today. If someone who spent the past 10 years as an Ibanker at Goldman left the bank, donated all the money they had made to to poor, and started advocating for a more just society I don't think anyone reading this blog would hold their past against them. However social acceptance should be contingent on a real change in behavior.

  8. Another bit about this. The song ends with the focus on banking in NYC. That is, Wall Street.

    Local/community banking is a very different animal. Local banking--helping people get loans for homes, small businesses, or other things--is a service to the community.

  9. I've always liked the little-known U2 version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdgRPjZFH8E recorded 25 years ago during their Rattle & Hum days for a Woody Guthrie tribute album.

  10. One of the best concerts I ever attended was to see and hear Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger who, of course, did a lot of Woody's songs. "The Boss" always pays a tribute to the songs of Woody Guthrie. Loved it in 2009 at Pres. Obama's inauguration when Pete, his son, and Bruce Springsteen sang (with a youth chorus behind them), "This Land Is Your Land." When they sing the song, they don't leave out the "controversial" verses. In reference to words of the song above, there is no doubt Jesus would be crucified today. The world has never been considerate of those who advocate for the poor and common people. Look at the rhetoric and threats going on right now.

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