The lynching of Jesus

16 09 2020

“Jesus didn’t so much die FOR the sins of the world, but BECAUSE of the sins of the world!”

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, but it continues to resonate with my ever-expanding theology of the cross. The life of Jesus was simply too much for the broken system into which he was born, threatening both Rome, as well as the Jewish authorities of his day. His affinity with the poor and his affection for the marginalized were upsetting to an empire that sought to privilege only a select few; and his willingness to expose the hypocrisy of the religious elite was doing harm to the religious nationalism that was central to faith of Israel. His message of love and grace was a threat to the law and order of the Jerusalem power brokers; and his calling out the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hardness of heart was a blasphemous affront to their religious elitism.

All of this put Jesus on the cross. One might even say that each attempt to silence his will and way in this world was a nail that held him there. For that is what sin does. Sin crucifies the Christ: again, and again, and again. Sometimes it does so slowly and subtly, other times more overtly and quite aggressively; but either way, sin always attempts to stop God’s ever-flowing streams of justice and righteousness. It halts, at least temporarily, the bending of the universe’s moral arc, and it hinders the coming of God’s kindom, where God’s will is done “on earth as in heaven.” That is what sin did 2000 years ago when Jesus was physically crucified on a cross, on a hill outside of Jerusalem; and it is what sin continues to do today, in cities and towns all across America!

Every time people of color (who by the way, look far more like Jesus than most White Americans!) are mocked in racist jokes, slandered in racist epitaphs, or belittled in racist slurs, a crown of thorns is placed on the head of Jesus. When young Black men are innocently lynched at the hands of frightened and over-aggressive police officers, or by biased and bigoted vigilantes, nails pierce the hands of Jesus. And every time we White people watch, shake our heads, and wonder why everyone can’t just play by the rules — OUR rules — a nail tears the flesh of Jesus’ feet.

Growing up, this was how I often heard preachers and teachers talk about sin. The sins were very different, but the results were the same. Back then I would be putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus if I drank or smoked. The nails were the more serious sins: thinking about sex to much, being promiscuous, or listening to things like Exile’s “I want to kiss you all over.” (One has to wonder if the church’s pre-occupation with sex is why people like Jerry Falwell are so messed up!)

Fortunately, according to this sin narrative, my role in putting Jesus on the cross was minimal. I was a ‘good’ boy! But therein lies the problem. For too long the Church has regarded sin as personal moral failings, and far too often those failings were all about sex — actions, as well as thoughts! And all the while, other failings, particularly those of a more corporate, or systemic nature, were overlooked. People just needed to be ‘good’, and have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. And if they did, salvation would be theirs for the taking.

But today, at the risk of overlooking the great variety of sins that plague our world, American racism is crucifying the Christ over and over and over again. Lynching people of color — like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Daniel Prude — perpetuates the lynching of Jesus. And as I rightly learned more than 40 years ago, it’s not just blatant racist acts that crucify Jesus, but racist thoughts as well. Every time we look at a Black person in a hoodie and lock our car doors; and every time we see a group of Black boys coming toward us and cross to the other side of the street; we are crucifying Jesus. Such racist behavior and the attitudes which motivate it, continue to give power to the systemic oppression of people of color, and embolden the purveyors of structures that oppress all those who do not look like me.

All of this is to say that whenever we refuse to embrace the anti-racism of our day: every time we resist the call to name our bias, or fail to use our privilege for those who have been marginalized because of the color of their skin – perhaps even reject our privilege altogether, we participate in the lynching of Jesus. And when we allow the violence of a few protesters to distract us from the cause of the vast majority, who are doing nothing more than peacefully crying out for justice, we pound the nails in to the hands of the Messiah. So the American Church can no longer remain silent on this matter. What we have done to people of color: from the stealing of Native American land, to the internment of the Japanese during WWII, to the systemic oppression of the Black community for 400 plus years, is nothing less than an on-going, continual, and daily lynching of the Christ. And the time has come for it to stop.

Two thousands years ago, on the outskirts of town, Jesus suffered the pain of a cross for three-plus hours. Here in American, from sea to shining sea, people of color have been suffering on the cross of racism for 300-plus years. So when will we White people cry out with the words of Jesus, “it is finished!” “Enough is enough!” “We are not going to do this to our Black siblings any more!”

Naturally, some of us will choose to close our eyes to such sin. Some of us will continue to distract ourselves by denouncing the protesters as dishonoring the flag, or by advancing a form of Christian nationalism that is not willing to push against a brand of ‘law and order’ that only applies to some people. But let’s be clear. When we do, we lynch Jesus again, and again, again! And when the crowds in which we find ourselves cry out that “all lives matter,” we shouldn’t be surprised that those words sound eerily similar to the cry of another crowd.

You remember it! “Crucify him!”


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