The skin tone of Jesus was most certainly darker than mine. He was poorer than I am. He was more courageous and honest than I am. Jesus walked more than I do, he spent more time outside than I do. Jesus listened more than I do. He was more confrontational than I am. Jesus was less literal than I am. He was more political, more of an activist than I am. He was less protective of the status quo than I am. Jesus was more vulnerable than I am, and at the same time, much stronger and more certain than I am.
Jesus was not white or privileged, nor was he silent.
Like most Christians (thankfully fewer now than when I was young), I was taught a lot about how Jesus’ death was about me (and anyone else who chose to be a Christian) and almost nothing about how his death was an act of suppression and hate by those in power, who feared him and his anti-violence, anti-power, anti-religious message.
I was not taught to see Jesus as a man who died because he had no friends in power.
I was not taught to see him as a man who lived in an occupied land, who had seen his people revolt against and resist those in power.
Like most Christians I did learn that Jesus taught his friends, and anyone who would listen, to respond to hate with love, to stop fearing death and focus on serving all living things that are dismissed, oppressed, abused, exploited and ignored. It is not typically emphasized, however, that this man, by nature of his ancestry, heritage and place of birth, had no power or privilege. He spoke his truth from the dirt, not from a stage.
To say that I believe that Jesus loves me—a complicated metaphysical statement, to be sure—is to say that I am loved by a person that has more in common with those people that my people have enslaved, oppressed and killed; not just historically, but even today. I know that this has been done in order to maintain the kind of privilege and power that allows some of us to re-imagine our most sacred texts, centering and celebrating our individual worth without addressing all those bits about justice, dignity, the sacredness of this planet and all of her inhabitants.
I can no longer claim to be practicing Christianity if I am not practicing the kind of honesty and humility that allows me to see Jesus for who he really was. I cannot practice Christianity as a white person of privilege unless I am able to see that if Jesus were walking the countryside teaching today, I would be complicit in the kinds of oppression and occupation that he confronts. I would be the enemy that he was telling his friends and followers to love. If I was compelled to listen to Jesus in this scenario, it would not be because I understood his history or experience, or felt that he was here for me. It would not be because I identified with him.
I would be drawn to his message of peace—and standing there, a person of privilege among a crowd of people struggling to be seen, heard and loved in this oppressive world, I am sure I would not feel comfortable. I would likely feel confronted, hopefully convicted and held accountable. And I hope that, fed up with the violence and pain, I would be inspired by his simple underlying message: “Love one another.”
Yet, hearing this message would not be the end of it. To embody this message, I would have to be humble enough, present enough, and peace-loving enough, to stand with and for him as he was murdered at the hands of people who look just like me.
I can only avoid the trauma of being the enemy of Jesus and all those he spoke on behalf of by continuing to imagine him and his story as something that happened in the past, or not at all. As soon as I see that his story is incarnated every day in those that are left to die at the hands of a power I am conditioned to protect, I am undone.