Does the He Gets Us Ad Accurately Represent Jesus?

At the 2024 Super Bowl, one ad generated unexpected controversy: the He Gets Us “Foot Washing” ad. You can see it here:

It depicts surprising, eye-catching scenes of one person washing another person’s feet — a nod to Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet in John 13.

It ends with the message, “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.”

However, some Christians have strongly condemned the ad. Here are some examples - from both conservative and progressive angles:

  1. The top comment on the ad itself reads, “When’s the video on repentance coming out?”

  2. One professor at a Southern Baptist seminary wrote, in part:

He Gets Us framed evangelism with a leftward tinge, communicating the respectability of certain sins over others in our culture (although I’m not sure the ad even communicated that the respectable sins were sins at all).

It is curious that Jesus never showed up washing feet at a MAGA rally, a truck stop porn store in Alabama, to dilapidated and drugged-out factory workers in Ohio, or a white nationalist militia meeting in Michigan. If Jesus really is for all sinners, we should want right-wing racists converted as well, right? How would we respond to Jesus washing the feet of someone outside the Capitol on January 6?

The socially high-status sins of the Left are the ones Christians are told to evangelize, not the low-status sins of the Deplorable Right because, it seems, they are the ones truly outside redemption’s reach.

  1. Another popular writer and editor wrote,

Those who funded, created, and distributed the #HeGetsUs advertisement will be judged by the God they claim to know.

  1. This comment also took issue with the portrayal of Jesus:

The He Gets Us ads message isn’t that you should worship Jesus.

Their message is that Jesus worships you.

  1. One apologist concluded her analysis of the campaign, writing:

I find it highly discouraging that when there is so much money being poured into a campaign, it’s being used to further the perception that Jesus is the same Jesus people already believe in rather than the one they need to believe in. Promoting a social justice Jesus can actually make talking about the real Jesus more difficult, because He Gets Us has placed one more data point in people’s minds that it’s His followers who talk about all that “unpopular stuff” who don’t get it. They’ll come away knowing Jesus gets them, but they won’t get Him.

From the other side of the divide I found this comment:

So how much did the #HeGetsUs folks spend on a Super Bowl evangelism campaign this year that could have gone towards justice & humanitarian needs? The things we do when we fear hell more than we love our oppressed neighbours and their physical liberation.

From my perspective, these polarizing takes are surprising.

It seems obvious that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. And this event is recorded to inspire us to humbly serve one another.

What does it look like for people who are formed by Jesus to interact with their neighbors? Washing people’s feet seems like one way we could show our neighbors that we honor their dignity, care about them, and want to build bridges.

Is this all that we need to know about Jesus? Surely not, but we’re talking about a one-minute ad that is designed to provoke curiosity.

What’s your take?

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Jesus gets us, yes, but do we get Jesus? The getting Jesus part is what was missing from the spot.

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Ok. But, isn’t that kind of how Jesus did ministry?

I think of Matthew 4:23-5:1

Now Jesus began to go all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Then the news about him spread throughout Syria. So they brought to him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics. And he healed them. Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

I don’t know that every person who needed healing got a sermon on who he was. It seems like crushing crowds of people desperate for help, and he started by healing them. Serving them. Washing their feet - or healing their crippled feet.

Some of the crowds were curious to hear more, and they became disciples who learned who Jesus was as they followed him up the mountain.

A second question: is it necessary for every piece of Christian content to communicate the whole story about who Jesus is?

A third question: did the ad show something false about who Jesus is? That is, was it a misrepresentation or a partial representation?

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I don’t recognize all the people in this adaptation, but I think this is ALSO a good presentation of Jesus:

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The act was the sermon.

I have always found it interesting that the Jesus critics of his day never criticized the end product of Jesus’ works, i.e., the lame guy still walks with a limp, the blind guy still bumps into things, or Lazarus still hasn’t regained his color.
The controversies revolved around who was healed (the unclean), where and when they were healed, on the Sabbath, in the Synagogue in the public square (wherever Jesus met them), and how they were healed, with authority and power and the touch of Jesus on the untouchables. If you were the recipient of this or you witnessed this, that was the sermon.

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Interesting. So, how does that observation shed light, from your perspective, on the foot washing ad?

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My first impression as I watched the foot washing ad as a Christian was that it may make the Christian message look really strange to someone who has never read the bible and because foot washing is far removed from our current cultural practices. No one cares about washing feet before meals anymore. I am not sure if people want to worship a God who washes feet. It may be hard to grasp the message of humility for someone unfamiliar with the story. Moreover, it was just not accurate. Jesus is set in modern times, with a modern varied audience, and the real message of our need for salvation was missing. One purpose it may have served is to separate Jesus from hypocritical Christians but it also leaves one confused about what the bible says about sin.

In the same chapter in John 13:8-11, Jesus alludes to the real significance of washing feet, which is spiritual cleansing. Unless we are willing to be spiritually washed by Jesus, we have no part with him. Jesus’s message in washing feet was one of humility as well as spiritual cleansing. I personally prefer a complete truth though I may alienate some. It always costs to follow Jesus. I’d be curious what non-Christians think of the ad.

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That’s so interesting; I hadn’t considered this. It seems to me that most people would recognize the connection between foot-washing and service, but perhaps not!

Yes, in that sense it is still an ‘offensive’ message.

Do you think that’s wrong to do? Or that the way this ad portrayed it was inaccurate in particular?

Yes, I agree. That was missing. But is it required to present that message every time we talk about Jesus?

I’d like to hear more!

That’s a helpful insight.

In John 6:1-15, Jesus feeds thousands of people. The people see the sign and draw the wrong conclusion about who Jesus is. Their response to his miracle is a desire to take him by force and make him king.

But instead of revealing his identity to them and giving the complete truth about who he is, he withdraws to a mountain.

That is, he humbly serves them and meets their need, they draw the wrong conclusion, and Jesus goes away.

So I wonder if there are ways we can legitimately - and honorably - present the message of God’s care for our needs - on its own. Of course, at other times and places, we want to share the rest of the story.

I appreciate the insights you’re helping us to see.

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I think through washing the disciples feet, Jesus is conveying that we should not feel too proud to perform a menial task for others. Your question made me look into John 13 to see if Jesus washed Judas’ feet. John 13:12 tells us he washed everyone’s feet, which must include Judas, whom Jesus saw as unclean spiritually in John 13:11. John 13:15 and John 13:34-35 help us understand that we are to imitate Jesus, serve everyone humbly and love others as Jesus loved. That means it includes sinners. So the ad is right in portraying that we can humbly serve everyone, no matter the background. Infact, we are all sinners without Jesus’ cleansing. Despite Jesus’ example of humble service, he also mentions that one of the disciples will betray him in John 13:21, I wonder if it is for self reflection. Jesus doesnt sugarcoat the truth. When the series of pictures was followed by the caption “Jesus washed feet”, I wondered if Jesus would have washed feet of everyone in our modern times and what he would say about our sin. I am reminded of how Jesus turned the tables in anger when the temple was turned to a marketplace (Matt 21:12). So I felt the partial message sends a confusing message on what Jesus may do today. We dont truly know what exactly Jesus would do today in those situations seen in the pictures.

The reason I said the ad leaves us confused about what the Bible/Jesus says about sin, is because of the incomplete message. When I saw the picture of family planning clinic, I asked, “Are they for or against abortion?” I couldn’t tell. Perhaps the intent was to be apolitical but I was left wondering if the ad gave the appearance of something considered wrong or debatable by many Christians as being okay.

Thank you for sharing about John 6:15, where Jesus withdrew to avoid persecution. Its not always wrong to share partial truth. The main thing for me is that the message should not be misconstrued. I feel there was some liberty taken in the interpretation on what Jesus might do today.

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By way of contrast.
If you lived in the 1st century, you would have understood the culture of clean and unclean, life and death. A quote from Michael Morales’, Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? will help to clarify this point,

Broadly, what is unclean lies closer to the death/chaos extermity, and what is clean is closer to the life of YHWH, beyond the status of clean is that of holy, and then most holy, which is nearest to YHWH, who is himself absolute lifeness (holiness). (pg, 157)

You should see the Temple clearly from this perspective. The people that Jesus healed would have thought of themselves as permanently unclean and with no remedy save God himself! The act was the sermon.

In the 21st century, particularly in the Western world, clean and unclean have no meaning. There are no taboos. We live in a world that the individual defines; you are a victim of circumstances beyond your control, and in this culture, you can expect or even demand your “foot washing”.

Let me slide in a DeSilva quote to strengthen this observation from Honor, Patronage,Kinship, and Purity.

Those seeking a culturally sensitive and finely tuned reading of the New Testament, however, will need to step behind nearly two millennia of ideology to recover the internal meaningfulness of the observance of purity regulations if they are to attain an appreciation of both the religion of Israel and the rewriting of purity codes by Jesus and the early church. (pg.273)

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That makes sense to me.

The connection I drew - and I respect that it wasn’t one that everyone drew - is that Jesus served scandalous people in scandalous ways. He was constantly attacked for who he had dinner with and helped.

To some degree, seeing who is upset with the idea that Jesus might love their enemies seems revealing.

At the same time, I acknowledge the ad was ambiguous. So, that message wasn’t the only one that people received. And part of the purpose of an ad is to communicate with clarity.

So interesting! I doubt many people are discussing this ad from the context of clean/unclean culture in the 1st century.

I respectfully and sincerely disagree. I think human nature remains the same, but the way in which clean/unclean are experienced morph into new cultural forms.

For instance:
Some Christian schools would not allow a woman to shave her head and come to class. She would be seen as unclean and forbidden from entering the premises.

Some progressive schools would not allow a student to wear a “Trump 2024” hat to school. He would be seen as unclean and receive a detention.

We still have visceral reactions to what our group deems unclean/death/chaos, and we reject that from our community.

As an interesting example, many people seem to have rejected the He Gets Us campaign as ‘unclean.’

Do we connect what is “clean” with the holiness of God? I think that remains a discipleship challenge - in our day and age, to discern whether our taboos align with God’s.

What’s your take?

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This question strikes me as being at the core of most critique.

A secondary question I’d propose is, what is the purpose and target audience of the ad? And would that effect how much, as well as what, needs to be communicated?

Many critiques, like the top comment on the ad itself and the second video you posted, focus on the importance of repentance and life transformation accompanying saving faith. This is indeed important to include if the purpose of the ad is to share the gospel. However, if the primary purpose is instead to call Christians to a life of humble service, than the ad itself is a call to repentance - not to unbelievers but to believers. How much information is needed in a call to believers?

On the webpage it directs you to at the end of the ad, HeGetsUs.com/LoveYourNeighbor, it states that the ad was based on the premise of Love and Unity and was meant to teach Jesus’s message of loving your neighbor. Would this impact the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the ad’s representation?

@lakshmi on the website they direct people to, they do address your concern about the cultural context of foot washing, both sharing the scripture of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and addressing what feet washing meant in the culture, why it was a practice, and the humility required both from the one washing someone’s feet and from the one allowing them to be washed.

The website does not, however, address the spiritual aspect involved in the feet washing (which I would agree with you was part of what He was teaching) and leaves their views on abortion and other pictured activities ambiguous. Instead, when speaking of serving others they use language like even “those people with whom we don’t see eye to eye” or that of setting aside ideological differences.

My question is though, if this ad is geared primarily toward Christian response (though I’m not sure that it is), would it matter if this is left ambiguous? Would washing someone’s feet outside of the family planning clinic pictured be wrong? And does it make a difference if the person you are serving knows what you believe?

Personally, in a culture I see as strongly divisive and quick to condemn, I find the ad itself to be a helpful call toward loving your neighbor through acts of humble service - whether they are your enemy or friend.

Yet, though I don’t think calls for the repentance of unbelievers need to be a part of every message to every audience, it absolutely is a critical component of the gospel. Unfortunately, the critiques leveled towards this ad - from what I have seen - hold true of the entire He Gets Us website.

Their article “Jesus Was Exclusively Inclusive” does not, in fact, address the exclusivity of Christ in stating “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). Moreover, they end their article with the statement below.

And once we do [include everyone in our ministry], we might just find—much like those who knew Mary Magdalene in her time—that the people who are considered the least of us will impact us the most.

They say this without making any mention of Mary’s life transformation or even noting that, though Mary certainly impacted others’ lives, it was Jesus who impacted her far more. In fact, even the impact she had came from her being conformed to the image of Christ.

They also have a whole article on Jesus’s anger where they conclude that his teaching to the disciples concerning anger was, “He taught them to let it go.” They make no mention of the day of judgement or the verse, “‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord,” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19).

So, though I personally see no wrong in the ad itself, I think those critiquing the ad are pointing out important and critical flaws that do hold true for the organization as a whole.

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I wouldn’t agree with me either if I said what you thought I said.
I think we are both pulling the wagon, just not in the same direction.

Originally, my objection to the ad was what was missing the “getting Jesus part”.
You replied:

Note there were no physically or mentally sick people represented in the ad (not by today’s standards).

My response was the act was the sermon and to support this; it helps to understand the plight of those who needed healing: hopeless and helpless, more dead than alive. A plight predicated on a belief that only God could alleviate your condition. But your chances of this happening were near zero because of your plight, in a nutshell, your separation from God, unclean without remedy. Just think, even the Gentles were allowed in the Temple courtyard.

You missed that part. It was supposed to define the divide between those who were hopeless, 1st-century folks who found themselves stuck in the outhouse of life, no exist, and no paper, the lame, the blind, the leper, and the crazy guy with their modern-day (specifically the USA) counterparts. The former were resigned to their lot in life; the latter have a greater expectations. This is not a declaration that people have suddenly gotten better, but the current cultural norms are validating a feeling of entitlement and blame assignment. Nothing is your fault anymore.
Hey you! Wash my feet.

2 Kings 5:1-19 should help to connect the dot.

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I’d like to add possibly the most controversial comment of all so far…

I have no idea what the Super Bowl is :grinning:

However, I have seen all the discussion and various videos online addressing this advert. I like how @blake brought up a different perspective: that if this advert is primarily directed at believers, then it’s a good wake up call to love our neighbours more devotedly. However, my greater sense was that believers aren’t the primary audience. So, if unbelievers, or those who have never experienced the church, or had negative views of Jesus see this, how wonderful to have a positive representation of Jesus out there. Perhaps we should have more adverts promoting Jesus!

However, I totally get why so many Christians are up in arms about the message within it. It’s like they’ve gone half the way to share Jesus and then failed to complete the message. My mind instantly goes to the story of Mary Magdalene. She was rejected by society (like some of the people in the advert), Jesus stooped down to meet her where she was at (again like the adverts). However, the advert stops there, but in scripture, Jesus speaks the key words “Go and from now on do not sin anymore” (John 8:11).

The ‘He Gets Us’ website talks about Jesus’ love as unconditional. In one sense, his love is unconditional in that he died for all (John 3:16), and that his invitation is to all to accept him. In the story of Mary Magdalene, he demonstrated the ultimate love but in one sense it wasn’t unconditional - there was a very clear condition: sin no more. So whilst his invitation is to all, no matter what, not all can enter into his promise of salvation:

Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14)

For some people, the advert might be a gateway to knowing Jesus more, but as they step through that gateway, they’ll discover that following Jesus requires picking up one’s cross, dying to oneself daily, and repenting of sin. Will they feel that they’ve been duped by this advert when they discover the reality?

This is a really good point. The other point to mention is that Jesus didn’t go washing the feet of the crowds. He only washed his disciples’ feet in a closed room, once for all we know. It was one specific act, to illustrate a teaching point for the future apostles and founders of the church. It actually wasn’t a means of reaching out to all the crowds to show them that they were accepted and unconditionally loved, as the advert suggests.

Jesus did demonstrate love to the crowds through his many healings and deliverances. It was always to illustrate the message of the gospel.

True, not every individual who received the healing had it in the context of the gospel message. Jesus healed and then withdrew to preach. Some heard the sermons, some didn’t. For the last 2,000 years though, our understanding of all these individual healings are deeply embedded in the greater message of the gospel as set out in our scriptures, and I think that is a really important point that we don’t separate the healings out from the most important message of salvation. In many of the healings that are recorded in more detail, Jesus offers forgiveness of sins. This upsets the pharisees because only God can forgive sins. However, in the context of that time, everyone understood the issue of sin and holiness. I think that @jimmy has raised a good point that sin/holiness are not dominant concepts in our culture today. Sure, honour and cancel culture exist, which I think describe @Carson 's examples well but I’m not sure they’re parallel to the ideas of sin and holiness.

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