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Free the Black man’s mind: Celebration of Lent – Part 6

By Rev. John E. Jackson

During the Christian season of Lent, followers of the Christian faith turn to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus The Christ of Nazareth. The question I want to posit for even deeper reflection is this: “Why was Jesus a threat in the first place?”

Jesus, by all accounts, for the first 30 years of his life, lived them in obscurity. The only brief glimpses of him before 30 years old offered by the scriptures are when he was born and his traveling to Jerusalem with his parents as a child. For most of his early life until around 30 years old, he was in the words of Dr. Howard John Wesley, Senior Pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church, a “Nobody from Nazareth.” So why was he a threat?

In the Gospel of Luke and the first five verses, it details Pilate’s questioning of Jesus and then Pilate telling the chief priest, “I find no fault in him,” to which the chief priest responds saying, “He stirs up the people…”

How did Jesus stir up the people and why was that a threat to the religious aristocracy of first century Palestine?

The first point I would like to make is that Jesus genuinely cared for the poor and indigent of his day while those in positions of authority did not. The poor thus began to be attracted to Jesus and were then listening to what he had to say. This caused fear and anger with the religious elite who saw Jesus possibly organizing and mobilizing the poor to take on their own agency.

We consistently see Jesus interacting with those deemed unworthy, and excluded by the religious elite, whether it was lepers shunned by the religious elite, women who were marginalized and seen as property by the elite and toxic male patriarchy, the sick and infirm, or poor peasants of the rural hinterlands who were all seen as things to be used, rather than as people to be loved, by the privileged priests of Jesus’ day.

But Jesus addressed the needs of the downcast and disinherited, and that caused him to be a threat.

The religious elite of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day were intent on preserving, protecting and promoting their privilege despite that privilege being granted them by their Roman oppressors from Europe. The Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day were made up of around 71 men, many of whom were Pharisees, others were Sadducees, priests and teachers of the law. They were the puppet ruling body that enjoyed minimal wealth and prestige allowed by their Roman overlords as long as they kept the masses of people who were poor in line and paying exorbitant taxes to Rome.

Ghanaian author and scholar Ayi Kwei Armah in his classic book “Two Thousand Seasons” calls people who are the puppet ruling elites “Ostentatious Cripples,” people who really don’t have power but what little power they do have they use to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor in order to keep their benefactors pleased with them.

The Sanhedrin, Pharisees and chief priests of Jesus’ day were Ostentatious Cripples who preyed on their own people to maintain their own privilege and prestige.

Therefore when Jesus healed, in particular on the Sabbath, Jesus was demonstrating that people are more precious than the performance of holding certain days as sacred, or as the Bible says “Sabbath was made for humans and humans were not made for the Sabbath.”

When Jesus healed lepers and fed the hungry for free, he was demonstrating that the poor of any society are the ones who must be the priority of those who truly believe in God and who seriously intend to honor God with their actions on behalf of the marginalized masses. This is what Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez calls “God’s preferential option for the poor,” or as Jesus said in the Gospels, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

It is interesting to me that in today’s chaotic election cycles we rarely hear anything about the poor. It is as if the poor have been wiped from discussion and attention in the campaign promises and party platforms because those with privilege and who consider themselves either middle class or upper middle class receive the bulk of attention.

By Jesus’ example isn’t it then unchristian for right-wing so-called Christian legislators to fight against forgiving student loan debt? Isn’t it unchristian for those same legislators to deny single payer health coverage? Isn’t it unchristian to deny working class people a living wage? Isn’t it unchristian to drive out the homeless who sleep under viaducts but not build adequate shelter for them to live in dignity?

Jesus was a threat in this first installment because he cared for the poor. It would seem that if Jesus is the Lord of the community of faith called Christianity, then his example would be the guiding principle by which every house of worship and every follower would be governed.

In this Lenten reflection of Free The Mind, we discover that Jesus was a threat not because he had prayer meetings, anniversary celebrations, Church teas or good worship.

Jesus was a threat because he cared for the poor and endeavored to help address their needs simply because they were humans made in the image of God.

Next week we will examine another reason why Jesus was seen as a threat.

As poet Mari Evans said,

“To identify the enemy is to free the mind,

Free the mind of the people,

Speak to the mind of the people.

Speak Truth”

Be Free Today!

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson Sr.

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.

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