Thursday, October 29, 2015

Black Lives Don't Matter to Jesus That Way

Exegesis Matters




The Reformed African American Network published a piece titled "A Biblical View on 'Black Lives Matter' and Immigration." The author,Jeremy Williams, sets out "to show how the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, and allowing immigrants in this country, whether Hispanic or Syrian, is Biblical." His text for making this Biblical case is Matthew 9:36:"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." What does this text mean?

It applies to the condition of the Black community:
First, it says Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were harassed and helpless. If anyone has been harassed and helpless in this country, it would be the African-American community. 
From slavery, to Jim Crow, to mass incarceration, to over-policing, the African-American community has been harassed, then helpless. When you put half of the black men in prison, flood the community with drugs, shut down schools and put in title loans, cash advance institutions, unhealthy grocery stores, and liquor stores, you are hurting it.
It also applies to immigrants, whether legal or illegal:
Immigrants trying to enter the country face some of the same problems; they are in the category of sheep without shepherds. This means their leaders have failed them. Their leaders have thrown them to the wolves of life. When we look at Mexico or Syria (obviously, there are more immigrants from other countries, but these two people groups are the hot topics in 2015), we see a blatant failure in leadership.

On one hand, we have a country overrun by drug cartels and sex trafficking. On the other hand, we have a leader in Bashar al-Assad who kills his own people on television, with no apologies. Those are leaders who have failed their people.

Evangelicals are not responding as Jesus would:
Here is where we come in as Christians. When Jesus saw these things in his day, he had compassion on the people. Today I see those who are supposed to be Christians either reacting by supporting a man who wants to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out and has vowed to send the Syrians back, or by just being completely silent on the issue. I see people reacting by saying that “all lives matter” in response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
                ________________________________
I don’t see compassion from the evangelical Christian community. Sadly, I see them being annoyed with ideas such as the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and the reality of immigration in the U.S. The worst part is some who are African-American and Hispanic in the evangelical Christian community feel like they have to “sell out” their own in order to assimilate into majority culture.
 What would Jesus do?
Newsflash: Jesus would be saying, “Black lives matter.” How do I know? From the parable of the Good Samaritan and the interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. In those passages, Jesus is telling Jewish people Samaritan lives matter. He had compassion on the harassed and helpless.
 Jesus would let the immigrants in. How do I know? After Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus tells his disciples that he is the shepherd to every lost sheep. He seeks to lead those who have been left or mistreated by their leadership. Thus, he doesn’t wait for people to follow him (which was the traditional Jewish way of rabbi and student relationships) but instead says “Look, you need a Savior, so follow me.”
Now, in response to Mr. Williams I ask, "What was Jesus doing?"
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.
Jesus was going about the kingdom work the Father gave him to do - teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel, doing miracles as signs of the arrival of the kingdom and its power to bring about the day when there will be no more pain, or sickness, or crying, or death.

How did Jesus see see the condition of the crowds of people? 
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
When we were raising our sons, I sometimes watched them happily playing, saw them as they did not see themselves, and had a great feeling of sadness come over me? Why? Because I knew things about life in the world they did not know. Jesus saw these people like sheep who were harassed by terrain, predators, and thieves. The sheep were helpless to save themselves from these threats. Was this because their country was occupied by the Romans? Because they were peasants? Because they were poor and powerless? No. They were harassed and helpless because of Satan, sin, and death.

They needed a shepherd to protect them, save them, and lead them to green pastures and refreshing streams. Those who should have shepherded them - the priests, scribes, rabbis, and leaders of the synagogues - failed them. But Jesus is the true Good Shepherd who cares about the sheep and will lay down his life to save them.

Jesus felt compassion for them. He was deeply moved in his inner being by the plight of these people. And, because compassion is not only deep emotion but a feeling that leads to helping intervention, Jesus did something about their plight. 

What did Jesus do? 

First he informed his disciples of the need:
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few...
There is a plentiful harvest to be gathered now that Jesus has come and the kingdom has been inaugurated. When harvests are ready there is a lot of work to be done in a short time. At present, however, there are not enough laborers to go into the harvest. This harvest is a harvest of people, souls if you will, to be gathered into the kingdom of salvation. 

Second Jesus called them to prayer: 
...therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
It is notable and instructive to the church that the first thing Jesus did about the harassed and helpless multitudes, the plentiful harvest, and the few workers was to call his disciples to pray.

What are they to pray for? More social workers, community organizers, sympathetic politicians, protest leaders, and activists on behalf of the temporally oppressed people? No. Laborers to gather the harvest. 

Then Jesus called and set apart his disciples as Apostles to labor in the harvest and to that end he granted them powers to carry on the ministry of the kingdom:
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
After appointing them Apostles Jesus sent them to do the work:
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons."
Jesus sent them to carry on the same ministry of preaching the gospel of the kingdom and demonstrating the signs of kingdom. First through the Apostles and later the church (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus multiplied his ministry.

One of the disturbing aspects of Mr. Williams' piece is the similarity of exegesis, theology, and practice to liberation theology. God's people are the the poor, the disenfranchised, the insignificant, the weak, the minorities who are oppressed by powerful people, institutions, and structures. Jesus took the side of such people and wants to set them free while bringing their oppressors to justice. If we are God's people, who are Jesus's agents in the world, we will take the side of the oppressed, help them overthrow the structures of oppression, and get for them such things as political, educational, economic, and institutional justice. 

Do black lives matter to Jesus?  Indeed they do. But so do lives of every people, tribe, tongue, and nation. Does Jesus care about immigrants, legal and illegal? Yes, he does. He cares about every kind and condition of mankind. He is not willing that any should perish.

How we feel about the "Black lives matter" movement and what should be done immigrants is related to our sociological and political commitments, not the Bible. The divide is between social and political conservatives and progressives, not those who believe the Bible and don't.  Jesus is not on the side of "Black lives matter" or open borders. 

One final word: Exegesis matters. Jesus cares about how it's done. 



1 comment:

Comments are welcome, but anonymous comments are not. You must register (simple process) to comment, and, other than your name, no personal information is ever revealed. The owner of this Blog does not remove comments, including those critical of him and what he writes, unless they show signs of serious mental disorder, violate accepted standards of Christian morality, or attack individuals rather than their views.