Today we celebrate the first federally recognized Juneteenth Holiday, celebrating the day that the final slaves received word of their emancipation. We celebrate an event I…honestly, the first time I heard it, I leaned on my racist training and believed it was just a holiday black people made up.
Yes, I was that racist and well on my way to overtly white supremacist beliefs and making Jesus into a white power hero. If not for the love and care from people who wanted me to do better – and saw my desire to love more fully – I would not be the “far left” “political” pastor I am today.
I do not need to spend a lot of time on the specifics of what turned me away from racism to love, but the past 15 months has strengthened the turn in me and created a new understanding of Jesus:
Jesus – the second person of the divine walking on Earth as the completely human man Jesus – was a protest, inherently a protest against systems of oppression, systems of marginalization, systems of slavery and exploitation, systems of bigotry and hatred.
When the divine chose to walk on Earth with us, the divine chose to take a life…
- born of an unwed mother.
- stepson to a poor day laborer.
- raised and often seen only as a child of the poor, backwards, uneducated part of ancient Israel.
- being homeless and living only on the generosity of others.
- living as a poor street preacher.
- preaching political (read: admonishing the powers that be and prophesying the results of their greed and self-righteousness) sermons.
- dining with the dirty, the sinful, the physically broken, the sick, and all others deemed unworthy to enter the temple – the temple God did not want yet humans built, anyway.
- dining with the man who would betray him.
- going to the garden despite knowing it would lead to his arrest.
- letting church leaders successfully demand his murder.
- letting his oppressors murder him.
- dying from the likely most painful, drawn out, humiliating, and dehumanizing form of execution we have every devised.
- calling his followers to follow the same path as him.
The divine chose this. If we believe Jesus could turn water into wine, heal the sick and wounded, and be resurrected after his execution, then none of that had to happen from a practical standpoint. Jesus could have chosen to increase his wealth, acquire power, and live a life of luxury and painlessness.
But for the toppling of systems to happen, for the unseating and redefinition of power and strength to happen, for the change of hearts and minds to happen, Jesus had to live this life radically and inexplicably different than the faith leaders of his time – and faith leaders of our time. He had to live contrary to the worldly values of his time – and our time. He had to stand up to the powers that be and demand change for the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the different – much the same way the faithful today must stand up to the powers that be today and demand change for the poor and working poor, the sick, the outsider with melanin levels that bring additional risk to their lives, and the different whose love causes no pain but makes some people uncomfortable and offends their restrictive theology of God’s love.
Jesus chose to sacrifice himself – the divine chose to sacrifice themself – as a protest against the evil and pain of the world. We, as believers in that divine, must choose lives of sacrifice and giving ourselves up.
Jesus was the divine’s protest against our systems of restricting and withholding love. Maybe we need to stop being offended by the protest and more offended by the pain being thrust upon the least and the lowest in the name of profit, comfort, and nostalgia.
Ending American chattel slavery did not occur because those benefiting from it had a spontaneous change of heart, nor did the Black community gain any rights denied them through spontaneous change of hearts from the white supremacists who benefited from their disenfranchisement. Everything came from hard fought battles – some literal, some metaphorical – that included protests and standing up when their oppressors demanded politeness and properness.
The first sermon our savior gave as an adult almost got him murdered. If Jesus, our messiah and the perfection of humanity, had to preach in that way to save us, maybe we all need to.
And we definitely need to listen to the message of the protest, not just recoil in the discomfort it causes the powerful and empowered.