Did Jesus Struggle With Racism?

Did Jesus Struggle With Racism? November 9, 2014

    For centuries now, the divinity of Jesus Christ has been under fire. Whether this man from Nazareth was actually God, or was it all just a literary plot to perpetuate one of the largest world religions today, these are the questions that are currently being asked across many platforms today. Honestly, I think it’s the wrong issue to be focused on. Whether Jesus was divine or not, or fully-divine, or fully-human, or whether you can have coffee without caffeine or not, these questions, at the end of the day, don’t change anything. It’s simply theological circle-jerking so some people feel like their seminary degrees means something. I’m not even sure Jesus knew whether he was divine or not,  I am not even sure if he cared. Jesus’ divinity is a distraction away from his humanity. For me, the most important element to be considered is: Was Jesus human? If so, he would have dealt with everything we did. The author of Hebrews, if there was one, posed this thought about Jesus: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). Now, we could spend countless unnecessary hours on why this author/authors focused on the metaphor of a High Priest, but for the sake of this article, the point is we need to be more panoramic (meaning, pull out your focus, rather than focusing on the minute details; or, see the forest for the trees) with how we approach scripture. In this case, here we are met with the reality that Jesus’ experiences were human, first and foremost. Second, he experienced it all. Lust. Power. Racism. Sexual Promiscuity.  Now, before many focus on the whether he actually experienced these things, because of the word ‘tempt‘, let’s get through this quickly. In Hebrew, the idea of tempting is also the same idea of going through a trial. Trials are things you struggle through. They are not things you just easily get over, otherwise they wouldn’t be called trials. Also, remember to ask a much more contextual question here: Why is the author of Hebrews making this differentiation? Even more importantly, why is it important mention it in this way? Remember, the Hebrew narrative starts from oppression quite early on (think the Exodus), and the cycle of being the oppressed to the oppressor continues on even to this day for the Jewish people. But, if you’re the oppressed, one thing that is quite important, is making sense of your oppression. So, why not create stories, myths, legends about divine demi-gods who will one day come and rescue you from all of this oppression and make you the chosen people who end up ruling earth? How does that NOT make sense? Of course, it makes sense! It’s how we all deal with trauma, pain and loss. We create stories that either valorise ourselves or why we are dealing with the shit we are dealing with.  But, the point of this article is not to argue whether Jesus is god or not. I don’t even think its the point of scripture. So, send your seminary degrees back, if you were taught that it was. It’s not. Jesus’ divinity distracts us from his already status of being human before the myths rolled in. Which leads me back to my next point. If Jesus dealt with everything, we have to accept he wasn’t perfect. (Remember, in the Hebrew mind, perfection wasn’t something static or unchanging, but rather, something that constantly evolved, changed and was willing to be changed). With his imperfections (hence, why he had to become sin) he becomes an even greater model, much in the vein of Buddha, Ghandi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and host of other humans who helped make the world a better place. It’s a great place to be for anyone. One possible imperfection he might have struggled with, and might have overcome, was racism. Check out this verse, one of the most over-quoted verses in the Christian corpus:

“…and you shall love your neighbor (fellow Jew) as yourself.”

That word neighbor is taken from the Hebrew word Reyacha, which at times could also mean companion or even spouse (follow link above to find out more). But even more, contextually, it would be translated as loving a fellow Jew. More to the point, Jesus wasn’t saying:  Love the world. Love everyone. In one sense, this is quite liberating and direct slap-in-the-face to the leftist idealism of equal status so prevalent in politics and religion today. So, was Jesus being contentious? What about the parable of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t that disprove this very claim of Jesus possibly struggling with racism at one point in his life. Another point to be made is that, we can’t love everyone. We really need to stop thinking like that. People create whole organizations based on this naive idea that we can all love everyone. We can’t. Its impossible. And if love is a form of ego-destroying death (think agape – Greek: self-sacrifice – highest form of love), then we would have to be exceptionally ego-centric people to continuously love others. Our narcissism would have to then be in divine proportions! – This verse here proves Jesus had his limitations. He still learned how to better love people. A couple of other ways to interpret this, are that Jesus is endorsing self-love. Love of one’s own people. A microcosm of nationalism. Of self-racial-love. If you take the definition of love above as ego-destroying, then it makes sense that we should love ourselves, to then destroy the ego we have created. To then find that ego in someone else. Another reading could be that he was being exceptionally anti-Roman in his hermeneutic zealotry (after all, he was a Rabbi) – meaning, he was saying, don’t worry about loving those who oppress you, love those around you who are being oppressed. This would have brought a lot of comfort to many of his hearers.Please do not read that I making the claim that Jesus was an all-out racist, but rather that he would have supported the institutional racism within Judaism (which can be seen in the Old Testament, as they begin separating themselves from other tribes, start to embrace monotheism, and etc.) – I do think we can claim that he COULD have struggled with it. That’s the point, the possibility of the struggle, not whether he did or not.  Now, many are going to quote verse below about how other contexts counter this very argument of Jesus possibly struggling with racism, I think its imperative to note, that the creation of the Bible did not occur as some moment of birth out of the sky, as one full document. It was never meant to be systematic. From the poetic writing style in Genesis, to the similarities in the myth-story of Noah, or the mythological existentialism found in the narrative of Job. The Bible was never meant to be some interconnected codified set of stories that keeps every other story in check. It’s not some political tool for checks and balances. It’s a human document. It’s fragmented. It’s borrowed poetry. Borrowed stories. It’s the development of a people group. It’s the development of a Palestinian sage. The fact that Jesus struggled should bring a sigh of relief to those who are truly trying to follow after this rabbi, who didn’t always get it right, but was willing to learn. Maybe, that the point, that life shouldn’t be about getting it right or wrong, or being caught up in the rhetoric of right or wrong, but that we are willing to learn when we screw up. For me, that’s the power of the Christian story. That we can get it wrong and that’s okay as long as we are willing to learn from it all.

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