MILGRAM & the Forgiveness of Jesus | Nerdy Sermon [Spoilers]
This might just be our most niche Nerdy Sermon to date. But dang it… I’m obsessed, and you can’t stop me unless you click away. Please don’t - let me geek out about this, I beg you.
If you follow us on Twitch, then you’ve already heard a bit of this rant, but I have become obsessed with this music video project on YouTube called Milgram. It’s one of the most creative ideas I’ve seen in a long while, and it’s put together so phenomenally that I can’t stop thinking about it.
Do you like death games like Danganronpa or Squid Game? It’s got that. Do you like anime OPs? You get ten per season. Do you like gorgeous animation and compelling anime characters? Got it. Do you like to decide the fate of murderers based on their feelings personified in a music video? A bit more specific, but if that’s you - you’re in luck.
This series is so compelling and especially worth talking about concerning the Christian faith because it centers around the concept of forgiveness, which is… kind of a big part of what we do.
So what could J-pop have to do with Jesus? Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and doing my girl Mahiru dirty with that guilty conviction. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
John 8:1-11 (NRSVue)
Reader: Splashforce (prefers to use username)
While Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and, making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Okay - so two options are happening right now. You are either a MILGRAM fan and know everything I am about to say, or you have NO idea what I’m talking about and are just here because you support Checkpoint or are a curious leel weeb.
Either way - let’s talk about what MILGRAM even is.
MILGRAM is a music video project produced by DECO*27 starting back in 2020
On the surface level, it’s a unique set of excellent J-pop narrative songwriting.
But once you dig a bit deeper - the truth of this extraordinary project comes out.
The viewer is given the role of a Prison Guard named Es. Your role as this guard is to judge a collection of ten different prisoners.
Throughout three seasons, we, as Es, will be tasked with determining the guilt of these ten prisoners, who are all confirmed murderers.
Given this, what we will be doing is not determining guilt as much as deciding whether they are each worthy of being forgiven or not.
How will we learn about these prisoners?
Each season, each prisoner will have their mental landscape extracted into the form of a music video.
These videos, lyrics, and song styles will all contain hints and clues about how the prisoner feels about their crime and what happened from their skewed perspective.
Thus, our role as Es is to debate within the comment section of YouTube on the severity, legitimacy, and toll of each crime and whether or not we want to cast a guilty verdict on each prisoner.
Now - Season 1 wrapped early this year and season 2 started in August, but no one had any idea what would happen to the four that were voted guilty last season. Now, we know that those four were punished by another group member that considers herself a vigilante.
Some of them are barely harmed (Amane, Mikoto), but some get pretty hurt (Futa), and Mahiru (best girl) almost DIED. I will never forgive you guilty voters.
Two videos into season 2, we are tasked with determining the capacity to forgive once again, but now we know more of the consequences of our choices.
If all of that wasn’t compelling enough, all of these songs are absolute BOPS, and all the characters are compelling as all get out.
We have Haruka, the definitely not serial killer Momma’s boy; Yuno, the call girl with no feelings; Futa, the cyberbully with a strong sense of justice; Mu, the once popular girl turned abandoned; Shidou, the Sweeney Todd-level experimental doctor; Mahiru, the best girl who did nothing wrong except love too much; Kazui, the bassy guy who is in love with the wrong person; Amane, the 12-year-old who might be a cultist; Mikoto, the Tumblr heartthrob that broke the Internet; and Kotoko, who is Batman but Bad Badman.
Keep in mind, though, this is only what we know from the first season - who knows what developments might happen as time moves on.
I love all of them, and they all sound so good. Plus, our mysterious guide through this story, a literal mythical Jackalope, and then our role as the mysterious Es, who also releases covers of the songs once they are listened to by enough people.
This series is SO good and SO free, and I just beg you to watch it. Or better yet, join our Discord, where we have a thread on it to debate things and explore the world together.
To keep me from talking your ears off (since I’ve done it for two streams at least recently), let’s move forward to what on earth this fascinating concept of a music video project has to do with Jesus.
Our passage from the gospel of John contains one of the most prevalent and confounding stories of Jesus, one that has made its way into plenty of pop culture media.
This passage is so confusing that it is outright cut out of many translations and often even considered not canon in some faith traditions.
With that in mind, let’s break it down.
We have a situation where a woman has been caught in the act of adultery. According to the Levitical law, she should, by all means, be stoned and killed where she stands.
But she isn’t being brought before a court or anything like that - she is brought before Jesus. Weird.
It’s clear that the scribes and Pharisees are testing this supposedly divine being and are testing him with something that isn’t easy for anyone - killing someone.
The scribes say, “Hey, Moses said she should die - what do you say?”
Jesus then bends down and writes something on the ground. We don’t get to know what’s happening here, and it’s maddening.
They continue to berate him, but after some time, Jesus stands back up and says, “Hey - anyone here who has no sin can be the first one to throw a stone.”
Then he goes back to writing.
Slowly but surely, each one of the people leaves one by one until it’s only Jesus and the adulterous woman.
Jesus then asks the woman where her accusers are. She says there are none left to condemn her. Jesus says, then I don’t charge you either. Go and don’t sin again.
This passage is SO weird, right? It’s no wonder it’s so controversial and highly questioned.
It doesn’t sound like John, and it’s weird.
But is there a kernel of something we can gain from this passage?
We can hold two realities in check here - on the one hand, we have seen what makes Jesus truly angry. He is upset with people being taken advantage of - by the law, money changers, and hypocrites.
We have also seen what Jesus expects of our role as judgment bringers - nonexistent. We aren't called to that position at all. If we are ever to call out another, all that Jesus says is that we better check ourselves first. Sometimes the Splinter in another's eye looks terrible, but it's nothing compared to the plank in our own.
Understanding that Jesus does believe that his role is to fulfill and not throw out the law, how can we rationalize this story if it is true?
Ultimately, this story has three principal characters - the woman, the crowd, and the Pharisees. All three are dispelled for the same reason.
Some try to speculate about what was written in the sand being the sins of everyone in the ground, but we don't know, and I think that's okay. Regardless of what is written in the sand, it's clear that it is enough to serve its intended purpose. Whatever Jesus writes reveals the truth in the crowd - no one is sinless.
Jesus doesn't say that she doesn't deserve death by the law.
He says that anyone that isn't worthy of death by the law should be the one to start the judgment.
And who is that? No One. All have fallen short so that no one can pick up the stone. Whether the law says so or not is beside the point.
What is the point, then?
Well, the adulterous woman is the one who gets a little extra lesson. Jesus simply points out the apparent - none were worthy. Then he says, go and become someone worthy.
Because that's what the fulfillment of the law is - it's a pursuit of Christian perfection. It's a lifelong seeking of the goodness that God wants for us.
The truth of humanity is that we make rotten judges. We aren't any good at it - sorry if you're in that career, I'm sure you do the best with what you've got to work with. But divine law is beyond our purview.
That's where MILGRAM ties back into things - the name of the series is an obvious tie to the famous psychological experiments of Stanley Milgram, where participants would seemingly electrocute fellow participants that were actually in on the whole thing.
The whole point of the experiment was to see the human capacity to harm one another under dress and direction from an authoritative power.
In MILGRAM, we have Jackalope. Who has Es under duress as an authority figure to carry out harsh judgments against those in prison?
We've been told to execute punishments and are carrying out our judgments accordingly.
Side theory - Es is a prisoner, and all others are actually in on the experiment when S is the only one to commit the murder.
Back to the sermon - you've no doubt made the connection here already. But notice the authority in the room and how there is one unlike the other.
Stanley Milgram had the authoritative supervisor.
MILGRAM has the sadistic Jackalope.
Jesus says to only pick up the stone of judgment if you have your mess in order first. This is a stark contrast. Jesus' authority is one of peace and grace, not testing punishment.
But what does this mean for us today?
For starters, it means you better go and vote Mahiru innocent when her video drops in a few months.
But more importantly, this game reminds us that we fall under the authority of someone better. Someone who is filled with goodness and grace for the undeserving. The truth is that we are all worthy of the guilty verdict. But we have someone that took that and conquered it.
The only perfect one is inviting us to be perfect and offering us a clean plate to start.
No matter what music video would be made of your biggest mistakes, even if it's the boppiest bop, you are still covered by the grace of Jesus.
So whether you are the best girl (Mahiru), begging to be judged (Shidou), or just trying to figure out what's going on (Es), know you're always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.