"Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, "Give your money to the poor,"
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave
Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand
His followers true and brave
One dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Has laid Jesus Christ in His Grave
He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
He told them all the same
"Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,"
And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.
When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.
And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
Everybody wondered why
It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
To nail Jesus Christ in the sky
This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave."
A lot has been made of the queerness of the Republican coalition: business elites tied to small-town "values" voters who, according to observers like Thomas Frank, are voting against their own economic interests by supporting laissez-faire economics candidates. Guthrie's songs ring unfamiliar because in the 21st century, both Jesus and the American flag have been co-opted as symbols of the Republican Party. Woody was a flag-waving, Jesus-loving far leftist, the kind of people who don't exist anymore because those of us who are some distance left of center don't want to be associated with flag-waving, scripture-quoting Republicans.
This song is especially heartbreaking because unlike me, Woody was a true believer in things. When someone brings up Jesus' actual populist message today, it's typically to rub sand the face of neo-conservative hypocrisy. But Woody really loved Jesus and wanted to save him from becoming a talking point for people like Mike Huckabee. So for that I am sorry, W.G.