I share with my Nieces and Nephew a certain narrative. One that has almost a thousand chapters. Of course I mean One Piece. A show about Pirates, Friendship and Adventure.
As a student of theology and pop-culture I have attempted a dialogue between the gospel narrative of Luke and Eiichiro Oda’s magnum opus, One Piece. I will be concentrating on the main characters of Jesus and Monkey D. Luffy.
Messianic Expectations Versus King of the Pirates
Monkey D. Luffy has one goal in life. That is to become King of the Pirates and gain the One Piece. He is not the only Pirate who seeks the One Piece. Many have tried. Luffy finds himself up against those who would kill, cheat, lie, steal, commit genocide, take over nations and become dictators to achieve the title.
Jesus as the Rabbi cum Revolutionary does find allusions to King of the Pirates. We read it in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus in the eyes of many, is like Luffy declaring “I’m going to be King of Judea!!!”.
While most of the synoptic Gospels show the humble and reserved nature of the messianic mystery Jesus. It is in the Triumphal entry where Jesus presents the Kingly symbology. The people who chafe under Roman rule exult in it. Though as we know they will be disappointed.
An Army Just Cramps Their Style
Luffy denied a revolutionary army. Luffy has an army of pirates from across the world present themselves to become his subordinates. An armada of great power is offered to him. Luffy rejects it. He refuses to become their big-brother, he openly refuses their obeisance. They do not understand.
We know that Jesus does similar. The triumphal entry in full donkey riding magnificence has Jesus riding not to the Roman seat of power but to the temple. Jesus is looking further ahead than anyone else. Is Luffy looking that far ahead?
No. Luffy is not known for his ability to plan. Luffy sees the armada as cramping his style. Luffy, like Jesus, travels light. Just the main crew only, no hangers on. Sure you can be a fan of Luffy and help him out. But unless you are asked to join the Straw Hat Pirates and sail on the Golden Sunny, chill.
If not a member of the StrawHats you can always follow Luffy’s way of being King of the Pirates. Because it is about freedom. While others see Kingship as power, strength, influence. Luffy wants to be strong so he can be free. In turn by being free he is a catalyst for positive change in the lives of others.
Standing Up To Power
Jesus as we mentioned earlier did not confront the Roman’s but the Temple. Jesus returns to Jerusalem and the Temple. Money changers are confronted. Jesus makes a whip and chases them out. This is high stakes action as Jesus is standing up for what is a financial hurdle to worship. A hurdle set by those in power.
Jesus’ narrative explores the price of standing up to the powers that be. One Piece does not shy away from showing the price of standing up to power. Sure Luffy has his setbacks and they are big. But these are two different narratives. Luke’s messianic narrative travels in a different direction than Shonen manga.
Shounen Manga are power fantasies. Much like super hero comics. The hero against great odds wins out. When I read One Piece I know the ending. Not in the way I know the ending of Luke’s gospel because Eiichiro Oda has not finished One Piece. Though I know Luffy will become King of the Pirates.
Different Relations To Power
Luke has some interesting differences compared to the other synoptic gospels of Mark and Matthew. There is no ‘magic’ healing with the application of spit. Which fits when you read Acts and the not good wizard Simon Magus.
Luke is also different in the genealogy and the geography of a certain Sermon. One that has recently been pointed out to me. Which also points out a difference between the narratives of Luffy and Jesus.
The Sermon on the Mount. For Christians it is a well known part of the gospels. Very well known. Though in Luke it is the Sermon on the Plain. Similar text to Mark and Matthew’s Sermons on the Mount. The difference is a little quizzical until you look at the foreshadowing Luke does.
Of the synoptic Gospels Luke’s genealogy of Jesus is the longest. Luke goes back to Noah and then to Adam who is also son of God. This harks back to the Genesis narrative that has all of humanity related to each other. In this the Son of God, Jesus is connected through his human parents to humanity and divinity. As we all are.
Luke has Jesus on the Plain, not on the Mount. Level with humanity. With the frailty, with the fear, with the threat of death, poverty, hunger, disease of being human. While Luffy gains power to overcome, Jesus takes on Humanity to find connection. A connection that leads to death by the powers that be.
Subversion of Power A Different Idea of Freedom
Subversion of the dominant conception of how power is to be used is a key theme in One Piece. It is also a key theme to the Gospel. Jesus enters the world connected to human culture and life in all the best and worst ways. Instead of connection to power that overcomes, Jesus is connected to human weakness.
There is no defeat of the power of Rome. Jesus is not there for the short term of Empires. Neither is Luffy interested in the application of power that leads to Empire. For both there is so much more than empire. That only ties you down. Not just physically but in so many other ways.
Freedom is not found in power. Freedom is found in relationship. Which in a power fantasy is rare, though it is essential to One Piece. For Monkey D. Luffy it is freedom to travel and have adventures with his friends.
In the Gospel we see freedom from that which oppresses, dominates and controls us. Freedom to love God and love our neighbour. A freedom that puts aside fear and division. That connects the divine to the mortal. Not in a power fantasy but in a relationship that was there from the beginning.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.