Skip to main content

Ruminating on community and mission in ‘Jericho’

Well, I’ve caught up on Jericho and must admit the series is definitely playing with some interesting issues in its coda of a season.* Jericho has picked up the pace (with only seven eps with which to wrap up the story, it would have to)—and it’s shifted its focus in more ways than one. But the one that’s got me hooked is its swing from how a community forms to how that community embraces a mission outside of itself.

Last season, the focus was on how a small town in Middle America deals with an apocalyptic event that cuts them off from the outside world: nuclear bombs (which we eventually learn are connected to a shadowy home grown organization) detonated in a handful of American cities. It was an often flawed but very interesting look at how we human beings react to situations—both individually and as a community (as our individual actions ripple far and wide)—that wreck the world we think will last forever. By the end of the first season, after working through issues of confrontation, sacrifice, forgiveness and reconciliation, the series ended with the town bonded together—and with the moral center of the series dying on a kitchen table after an attack from a neighboring town.

One of the main things that drew me to the series (besides the intriguing apocalyptic premise and the Prodigal Son theme) was that character: former Mayor Johnston Green. He was wise, willing to admit and learn from his sins, compassionate, and walked with strong moral fiber and strength. He was flawed but steady and strong. He was the voice of good judgment and the town’s leader, even if he no longer held an institutional position. Quite honestly, with Johnston’s death I wondered if the town’s moral center (not to mention the series itself) died with him.

This season, the map has shifted. The military rolls into town and power and food supplies are restored. The town is suddenly reconnected to the outside world—but it isn’t pretty. America is torn down the middle, with the remnants of the original government on the east side of the Mississippi River and a new government led by a self-proclaimed president on the west. The town, bonded into a community of trust and loyalty by their trials, is facing the growing realization that this new government is not what it seems; a few characters even connect it to a cover-up of the real nature of the nuclear attacks. On the heels of a year of tribulation, they face the question of what, if anything, could and should they do about it. And what are they willing to sacrifice to do so.

At first, I felt the vacuum of Johnston’s absence. Yet it’s obvious Johnston’s memory and influence on the lives of several characters guided their decisions—in particular, Johnston’s sons Eric and Jake. In the first episode, they are bent on revenge for their father’s death. But one of the factors that gets Jake off that path is the question of what his father would want him to do. Eventually, Jake talks his brother off the same path. The two were at a crossroads—one way being back to their old ways and the other walking the new path modeled by their father. They chose to turn away from their own desires for revenge and instead do what was ultimately in the best interest of the community (and the community’s burgeoning larger mission).

In addition, I find it interesting how the strengthened relationships within the community (again, which formed in large part under Johnston’s leadership) affect their interactions in face of their new challenges. In the second episode, Eric Green confronts Mayor Gray Anderson with some evidence that the new government is acting in questionable ways, and Gray appears to wave him off and take a "let’s not rock the boat" attitude (self-preservation is a previous weakness of Gray’s). Instead of pushing the point (as he might have done early in the previous season) Eric backs off, yet remains a silent but steady reminder beside Gray. Throughout the episode, Gray grows more disturbed by the growing evidence (like the replacing of the American flag with a different one, talk of rewriting the Constitution, and an oppressed press—three revered entities in America). At the end of the show, Gray and Eric have another honest heart-to-heart. Gray points out that while he doesn’t do things the way Eric father would have, he’ll do his part to get to the bottom of what’s going on but he’ll do it his way—through the system rather bucking it. But we get the idea that this time he’s willing to risk his life and position in the process. Eric listens, gives Gray the room to do things his way, and grows in respect for him. It might be the way his father would have gone about it, but he acknowledges it as an equally valid way to work for just-ness. The scene ends with us knowing both men have changed and their relationship strengthened.

Another aspect I find interesting is how Jericho’s newfound sense of community and its new mission—one that reaches beyond it’s own borders—is drawing others into their midst and mission. In the third episode, a few of the characters who’ve come into town from the outside are starting to be drawn to the townsfolk and their concern about a questionable government. One of them is the by-the-books Army Major Beck who is in charge of the town. Interestingly, however, as another character notes, Beck is bent more towards seeking truth than staying the line. Later, after an outside-the-chain-of-command action, Beck admits that for him looking after people trumps chain of command. Both of these factors are drawing him towards the Jericho folks, who already exhibit these qualities in spades.

Jericho echoes the way a right, just and loving community is supposed to work. People seek the truth, they listen to each other, they speak truthfully and honestly, they confront each other, they admit when they are wrong, they recognize each other’s gifts, and they work together and invite others to work with them towards right-ness within their borders and beyond. Johnston exuded those qualities and actions, and that influenced the people around them; in many ways, they learned how to lead, relate and go about life from him. In some ways, it’s as if Johnston’s been dispersed in each of them. And that draws others to them just like those qualities in Johnston drew people to him.

And all this makes me think about Kingdom community and our lives as followers of Jesus, who walked this earth in flesh and blood exuding the Life that we were created to live. Unlike the townsfolk of Jericho, however, we have more than a memory or influence of a person—we have the very Spirit of God within us, growing those Christ-like qualities and transforming us as we walk the Way. And that affects our living together, because as we go, the Spirit writes on our hearts the greatest of commandments, the Jesus Creed: to love God and love others. In that Love we learn devotion to truth, confronting wrongness, working for right-ness and just-ness, embracing others and their gifts.

And as we live and walk with Jesus this Way, we are drawn into God’s mission: his deep longing and work to restore a broken world and a broken people. It naturally rises out of our living in and with Jesus in his Life and Love. Not only do we grow in fellowship and community with each other, but we drip with an always stretching out mission towards healing, right-ness, justice, life and reconciliation, a mission always inviting others in, a mission of Love. That’s how God’s mission began: For God so loved the world (John 3:16). That is where ours is rooted as well: We love because we were loved first. And while that this kind of Kingdom-living may buck systems and people seeking their own gain, it will also draw others to God and his Kingdom and Life beyond imagination.

Jericho isn’t the most Emmy-winning material out there, and its current pacing definitely takes away from character development. And I really do miss Johnston Green. But the series still brings God-talk into open spaces—and that’ll keep me watching.

*Originally, Jericho wasn’t renewed for a second season. However, due to a grassroots fan campaign, the series was given seven more episodes with the potential for more—but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen.

(Images: CBS) jerichoctgy