"That Church"

The Last Week: Fateful Friday

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Scripture: Mark 15:25-34
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV DMIN
April 2, 2017

The first time I was introduced to the concept of a non-white Jesus was when I was about 9 or 10 years old.  I was watching an episode of “Good Times”.  (Show “Good Times” episode of black Jesus.)  Like Florida, “Mama”, the only image I had ever known of Jesus was a white one.  How many of you grew up with the picture of Jesus?

Me, too. The idea that Jesus was non-white seemed far-fetched and preposterous to me.  Seeing a black Jesus was shocking to me.  Come to find out that not only does the book of Revelation describe Jesus as non-white (Revelation 1: 14-15) as Michael in Good Times clearly points out, but BBC’s television series “Son of God” reconstructed Jesus’ facial features using 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus’, description of Jesus, early artistic portrayals and ethnic traits to get a better idea of what Jesus may have looked like and came up with this.  

Jesus was a carpenter who worked outdoors and he may have actually been a bit more muscular and a bit darker than average.  Jewish men cut their hair short in the first century, so Jesus probably did also.  This may not be the exact picture of Jesus, but it’s probably closer to him than most of our other representations.  Imagine that…Jesus was a Palestinian Jew – dark hair and dark skinned.  If the historical Jesus came back today, he would probably be on the “No Fly List” (Amer Zahr, TIME magazine).

So, if Jesus looked like this, how did we come up with the dominant image of a white Jesus?  In the Middle Ages artists began depicting Jesus as white because Christians with their anti-semitic belief didn’t like the idea of Jesus having Jewish features, even though he was Jewish.  In addition, some of these artists speculated that Biblical passages that referred to lightness symbolized purity and Biblical passages that referred to darkness symbolized sin and evil.  So goes the erroneous thinking, a pure Jesus would, “of course”, be white.  Not to mention that a white Jesus reinforces white supremacy which helps with colonization and oppression of indigenous persons.  In other words, a white Jesus reinforces white privilege.

I am not suggesting that we throw our pictures of white Jesus in the trash, but to only see Jesus as white is quite erroneous.

Fortunately, others have pictured Jesus as part of their own culture.  Indigenous persons sometimes portrayed Jesus as native American.  In so doing, they were able to relate to Jesus on a cultural level and find solidarity with him. Believing from the Bible stories that Jesus was one who stood with the oppressed.

From a Chinese Bible printed in the 1800’s, here is a picture of the Last Supper.  There appear to be chopsticks and maybe a bowl of noodles!

Here Jesus is depicted as Korean.  Everyone is in traditional Korean clothes, including a horsehair hat on Joseph.

In this picture, Jesus is portrayed as a woman.  No doubt, Jesus was a liberator of women.  During a time when women were little more than property and certainly considered to be the “least of these”, Jesus came to bring healing, hope, equality and freedom to women.  “As you do to the least of these, you do to me” says Jesus.  

Over the centuries, Christianity has been quite judgmental of the LGBTQ community.  And yet, many LGBTQ Christians believe that Jesus is one who accepts and loves all people unconditionally.  Jesus is Open and Affirming!     Jesus’s linen around his waist is portrayed as a rainbow flag here, with arms wide open.  Jesus accepts and loves all people just as God created them.

Along those same lines, a controversial play depicting Jesus as a transgendered woman has opened in Belfast, Ireland.  The play is called “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven”. The play writer is Jo Clifford.  Jo is a transgendered woman herself and she says, “It concerns me greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us.  I want to assert very strongly that Jesus of the gospels would not in any way wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.”  What would it be like if Jesus came back as a transgendered woman?  In the play, Jesus shares communion, bread and wine with the audience, which is really a gesture of solidarity in the face of death and she gives a blessing to ALL people.

Very different images of Jesus.  For some, it is important that those images of Jesus be found on the cross.  Honestly, I’ve never been one who cared much for crosses.  For years and years, I did not wear a cross around my neck.  I thought why would I wear a symbol of Roman capital punishment around my neck? And I did note buy into the theology that Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins.    But it is in the last couple of years that I have reclaimed the symbol of the cross.  And you may see me often with a cross around my neck.  Why the change?

I came to understand that Jesus is a symbol for all who are oppressed. Jesus didn’t just talk about fighting oppression, he embodied it.  “What you do to the least of these, you do also to me,” says Jesus.  

In this picture, we see a Mayan-looking Jesus on the cross to give encouragement to the Mayans during the civil war in Guatemala. They are not alone in their suffering.  Christ suffered too.  Christ shares in our pain.  Christ knows what it is like to be persecuted for speaking out, what it is like to be tortured, and what it is like to die.  It was on the cross that Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi lema Sebachtani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Christ stands in solidarity with us in the midst of pain and hurt and oppression.

Dr. James Cone, founder of Black Liberation Theology, states that if Jesus embodied oppression, then the face of Jesus cannot be the oppressor.  It has to be the oppressed.  This means that in the 21st Century America, the face of Jesus, then, would be black, according to Cone.  He goes on to say “Thinking of Christ as nonblack in the 20 the century is as theologically impossible as thinking of him as non-Jewish in the first century,” (Black Theology and Black Power, 68-69).  And so indeed Michael from Good Times speaks truth to a black Jesus more than we may be aware.

The cross is a powerful reminder of the God who stands in solidarity with those who have suffered and are suffering.

On the cross, Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished.”   “It is finished” means it is accomplished; it is fulfilled; it is completed.  “It is finished” is not a death gurgle.  “It is finished” is not “I am done for.’  No, it is finished is a victory celebration.  Jesus has finished his ministry here on earth.  And in case we don’t get it, we are told that when Jesus breathed his last the curtain in the temple that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in two.  Jesus has finished off the system he opposed:  the temple with its careful division between clean and unclean; the division between who is in and who is out.  Jesus has finished off exclusivity; Jesus has finished off deadly divisiveness.  Jesus on the cross has set the model of divine love, radical inclusivity, and abundant grace. It is finished, but it is not over! For it is only Friday in our sermon series and Sunday is coming…