I am writing this blog in response to a facebook message that my dear friend and brother wrote entitled, “Who Is Your Jesus?” This piece dealt with the inconsistencies between the Jesus-of-preaching and the Jesus-of-the-Gospels. In this piece, my brother challenges the reader to really take an introspective look into one’s spirituality and truly answer this ground breaking question, “Who Is Your Jesus?” For many of us, the reality is this – our Jesus is not necessarily that Jesus that is depicted in scripture. For far too many Christians the life of Jesus of Nazareth has been distilled down into a few high points – a few miracles here and there, a great (though grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted) “Sermon on the Mount,” a dinner, a death, a burial, and a resurrection. Yet, by removing the details from his life we miss the real message of Jesus’ life. As an old adage says, “The Devil is in the Details.” Well, I would alter that a little to say, “The Savior, and the salvation he offers, is in the details.”
The whole “Shirley Sherrod Saga” really highlighted the damage that can be done when words are taken out of context. In the case of Ms. Sherrod, a simply three minute segment of a larger 45-minute speech was used to falsely paint her, and therefore the NAACP, as racist. As much as many condemned Breitbart for this egregious attempt to malign the name and work of a civil servant, the truth is this happens a lot more than we realize, particularly in our imaging of Christ. Much of American Christianity has become a slave to American capitalism, often serving as the ideological factory from which many of our ideas of the “American Dream” derive their origin. The Christian mission to serve the “least of these” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves” has been lost amidst a Gospel that increasingly pushes the American Trinity – cars, cash, and commodities. This triune God espouses materialism over ministry and prosperity over people. Therefore Jesus is not seen as a mediator between humanity and God, nor an example of the “Reign of God,” but rather a vehicle (A divine Rolls Royce) to get us to our destined place of prosperity. This theological and ideological framework is resplendent throughout Gospel music and sermons and if often the theme and subject of church conferences, revivals, and holy convocations. Many modern Christians have been recruited under false pretenses, with lies and carefully constructed non-truths used to get us in the door and out butts in the seats. As my brother said,
This disclaimer should reflect to the anxious and hyped novice follower that rather than signing onto a corporate bonus of faith they are signing a waiver to work as a volunteer with benefits –being you serving the community! This indeed would really make the picture clear for many I’m sure, and I wonder how many Christians would we really have.
We see the blessings of Christ’s ministry, but somehow we have missed the opposite side of the same coin.
If we look into the details of Christ’s life, and the life of Christ’s earliest followers, we will find a common thread that runs through their lives – they were a poor and oppressed people, bereft of their former grandeur and glory, occupying a backwater province on eastern edge of the Roman Empire. Sounds glamourous huh? This wise sage, Jesus, found his ministry among these people, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, dining with outcasts and sinners, basically doing whatever he could to make people think that he was out of his damned mind. This “Reign of God” that Jesus was proclaiming did not make since to those who were around him. After all they expected him to arrive on horseback leading a mighty army to throw off Roman oppression and restore the previous Davidic monarchy; however, the “Reign of God” Jesus was talking about was something much more subtle, and far more profound.
The details of Jesus’ ministry show us that God is more concerned with how we treat people than how much money is in our bank accounts or 401Ks; being responsive to the needs of the homeless and destitute, being the “bread of life” for someone who is hungry, providing hope for someone who is hopeless. The details of Jesus’ ministry show us that God is more concerned with what we say than what we listen to. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus’ iPod didn’t have the Gospel Caravan, Pastor Billy Graham, Tye Tribbett, and the Clark Sisters on repeat. Jesus’ heart with was with the people so he most definitely had some N.W.A., The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, some Fugees, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Common, and maybe Cali Swag District thrown in there for good measure (Sorry, my Jesus was a Black man, no Garth Brooks or Shania Twain on his iPod). Where the people were, Jesus could be found in the midst. Jesus used this first-hand knowledge of the plight of his people to use his God-given voice to speak against systems of oppression – against militarism, imperialism, and colonialism. Jesus did not use his influence to perpetuate injustice; rather, Jesus put his life on the line, and ultimately on the cross, in order to bring death to oppression and life back to the people of God. The details of Jesus’ ministry, and the ministry of his earliest and closest followers, show us that Jesus was more concerned about the “faith-less” than the faith-ful. I am using the word faith to describe a set system of beliefs or belonging to a specific faith community. Ultimately, Jesus didn’t give a damn what boxes one checked on the census form, one’s religious or denominational affiliation, one’s race, gender, creed, or sexuality. All Jesus saw was a human heart beating in that cosmic rhythm and undulation that binds together all of humanity and bespeaks of the intentional and creative energy of God. Jesus didn’t exclude is ministry to those that fit his specific theology, ideological, or moral background, his ministry was for the whole world. As a matter of fact, after Jesus called the unclean, Syrophonecian woman a bitch in Mark 7, her utter persistence made him realize that the whole world was in need of what he had to offer, not just Israel. As heirs to this ministry we must be willing to minister to the unclean and marginalized of our own society – those living with HIV/AIDS, those marginalized because of their sexuality and lifestyles, those addicted to drugs and alcohol, those who’s very existence in antithetical to our own, not seeing statistics and diagnoses, but seeing brothers and sisters in need. That is who we are called to love and serve.
So who is my Jesus? My Jesus is one who was born in a Bethlehem gutter to an unwed, poor, Jewish girl amidst a starry night. My Jesus did not have, nor did he promise me “wealth and riches.” My Jesus was one would grow up and through his ministry shake the very foundations of the most powerful empire in the world. My Jesus ate with sinners, touched lepers, dinned and conversed with sinners, consorted with the marginalized, yet rose up in such prominence and stature that he eventually stood before Herod and his puppet-master Pontius Pilate. Though he never ran for office nor sat in a Roman senate hall, my Jesus campaigned throughout the land, preaching and teaching about a “Reign of God” that undoubtedly angered a few of the religious establishment. This Jesus was unafraid to challenge the authority of the High Priest himself and stood boldly on his convictions while he faced death for his ministry. But even in his death, Jesus showed me that God is present in all of my sufferings. So even if I don’t get the big house and the nice car, God is with me in my apartment with my MARTA card and my iPod in my ear playing Alicia Keys “Some people want it all, but I don’t want nothing at all, if it aint you baby…”
The Word of Marcus for the People of God…