Jesus was a minority.
But you know that already, right? You know that Jesus was Jewish, and you know the New Testament has stories that show the tensions between Jews and Samaritans, Jews and Romans, etc. That’s ethnic tension. That’s politically charged tension that came from Jesus being born into a certain ethnic group that also happened to be the minority. It is the same tension that happens today among races, ethnicities, religions, and socio-economic classes.
You know that when Jesus was crucified, he wasn’t crucified in a vacuum– he was in the middle of political, social and religious tensions that were running all over the place. You know Paul was able to get away with saying what he did without being killed because he was a Roman citizen, and was therefore afforded rights Jesus didn’t have. Right?
So it begs the question: If Christians follow a man who was a minority, why is racism such a problem in his church?
A few years ago, the magazine Popular Mechanics did a story on what the face of Jesus may have looked like. Forensic anthropologists gathered data from skulls and skeletons that date back to 1st century Jerusalem, and, along with other clues, attempted to reconstruct what an average man from that time would have looked like. Of course, we know there’s no description anywhere of what Jesus looked like, so literally everything we have is a guess, but this depiction of Jesus from the picture above is far closer than the blue-eyed, long-locked, white-skinned Jesus most of us imagine.
And it’s startling, isn’t it? Doesn’t it seem just weird, and a little…off? It looks so unlike Jesus, I can’t help thinking in my head, even though I’m LEBANESE for Pete’s sake and I of all people should know what olive skin looks like.
The truth is, we’ve been brainwashed to see a white Jesus for as long as we can remember. Even people who have never stepped foot into a church could tell you what Jesus looked like, and they tell you the only answer given to them…which happens to be an answer painted by European Westerners who, bless them, only knew how to paint what they knew.
In what may be the height of irony, we’ve become racist about the One Person who has come to make us all one. We’ve made Jesus white. We’ve done it again and again and again, until a picture of a 1st century Galilean man looks positively foreign to the Jesus we’re so sure we know.
Jesus was a minority. And we are racist.
It’s a sin worth confessing.
It’s a sin worth noticing, at the very least. Because in the same way we can delude ourselves into thinking blue-eyed Jesus is accurate and acceptable, we can deny our own complicity in racism. We can act as if racism isn’t our problem. As if we’re somehow “outside” of racism because we aren’t donning hoods or advocating for prison camps. But we reveal ourselves to be racist every day in a million tiny ways, ways so small you don’t even notice, like the blue-eyed Jesus you forget to question.
Friends, if we follow the One who called us to be one, how can we accept being so violently separated from one another? If we follow a Savior who, as a minority, spoke out for and lived into the love and respect and healing of all God’s children, how can we say that the struggle for justice among our minority friends is not our problem?
If we follow a Savior who lived and died as a minority, how can we say that racism in his church and in his world is not our problem?
It is a problem. And it is our problem. Now. What are we going to do about it?