ZZ Top and Jesus

Jesus just left Chicago and he’s bound for New Orleans.

Well now, Jesus just left Chicago and he’s bound for New Orleans.

Yeah, Yeah

Workin’ from one end to the other and all points in between.

 

Took a jump through Mississippi, well, muddy water turned to wine.

Took a jump through Mississippi, muddy water turned to wine.

Yeah, yeah.

 

Then out to California through the forests and the pines.

 

Ah, take me with you, Jesus.

 

You might not see him in person but he’ll see you just the same.

You might not see him in person but he’ll see you just the same.

You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.1

Yeah, yeah.

ZZ Top, Gibbons, Hill, Beard, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Tres Hombres,1973, Rhino Records

 

Maybe it is a sign of my age, or my conservatism regarding church music, but I really don’t care much for contemporary Christian music. It seems too tame, too commercial, too produced, too much trying to sound like the angst ridden teen anthems we hear on our mp3 players or Pandora, or any other medium, just too blah, blah, blah. Praise bands don’t do it for me either for pretty much the same reason as they try to give a contemporary flavor to worship music which ends up sounding more like entertainment than real worship music. Give me a good old pipe organ with a choir singing and I am just fine. So, it is with perhaps with a bit of rebellion to my predilection for traditional choral music and conventional worship practices that I tell my fellow seminarians one of my favorite songs of faith is “Jesus Just Left Chicago” by ZZ Top. Before you scream blasphemy and get the firewood, hear me out. This song is a bluesy anthem to a hip Jesus out and about in the world. While it may not have been the intent of those boys from Texas, I really believe that there is a gospel message within the lyrics of this 70’s ode to a “cool” Jesus.

 

So let’s take a look at ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. As you can see from the lyrics above, they are fairly simplistic with rhyming poetry and a real catchy blues riff. However, with a little introspection, we can find a powerful statement on faith. The first verse demonstrates a living Jesus. A walking, talking, abroad in the world Christ. “Jesus, just left Chicago, and he’s bound for New Orleans…Workin from one end to another, and all points in between”. In our faith today, do we see Christ as a force in the world today? Luke Timothy Johnson in his book “Living Jesus Learning the Heart of the Gospel” states, “To be a Christian means to assert that Jesus is alive, is indeed life-giving Spirit (1 Cor:15:45)” If our faith is to be real, we must accept that Christ is not some long gone 1st Century prophet who sits in the clouds now, but the Son of the Living God who is with us every day.

 

The second verse speaks to a Jesus that makes things happen. Miracles happen, “Took a jump through Mississippi, muddy water turned to wine”, and then out to California through the forests and the pines”. Christ is in the world and is active in the world. The authors testify to the power of Christ in the world by including a reference to that wedding in Cana all those years ago. It shows a Christ at one with the world and in communion with it. In the last phrase of the verse, “Ah, take me with you Jesus” indicates a transformative quality of Christ’s work. We see the desire of the singer to be with Jesus, to see the works that he accomplishes and to share in them.

 

In our final verse, we have a statement on faith. “You might not see him in person, but he’ll see you just the same”. In this repeated phrase, we are called to have a faith that tells us that Christ is with us even when we can’t see him. Faith is a funny, fragile thing that has to be nurtured. In this simple statement we are reminded that Christ is with us and will sustain us in all things, as evidenced in the last phrase of the song “You don’t have to worry, cause takin care of business is his name.” We can indeed rely on Jesus to “Take Care of Business”.

 

As I said earlier, I’m not sure if Dusty, Billy, and Frank considered the theological implications of this song as they wrote it, but I have to think that somewhere in their minds, they wanted to express a “real” Jesus, much like the one who walked through Judea and ate with the sinners, healed the sick, and spoke to us the words of life.

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