JESUS AND DISCRIMINATION
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
A few evenings ago, Jayne and I enjoyed another birthday party of one of our grandkids. In the month of May, there are five birthdays in our extended family, so we have had many reasons to get together during this pandemic. Everyone has remained healthy, so we’ve observed “semi-social distancing”! After the meal, a Bible passage was read from Luke 4. It recounts the Temptation of Jesus and the beginning of His public ministry. It quickly focuses on His teaching in the synagogues, specifically in Nazareth His hometown. What He said there caused the people, in anger, to attempt to seize Him and throw Him down a cliff. But, He left them unharmed. What was it that drew the “righteous” ire of those in attendance?
As was the custom, standing up, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah and also made reference to Elijah and Elisha. These are the words from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then He sat down – an indication that authoritative teaching would now occur – and said these words:
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Initially, the people spoke well of Him but then wondered how a “local boy” could make claims of such significance. Jesus knew their thoughts and called them out, saying that a “prophet is not acceptable in his home town”, exactly what many of the prophets had experienced.
Jesus then went on to mention the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, religious icons for these Jewish people. In what He said, He essentially equated himself with these three towering prophets: Isaiah, Elijah, and Elisha. If that wasn’t enough for the people, He focused on, no doubt, some long-forgotten ministries of the last two prophets. Jesus drilled the point home: During a famine in Israel, Elijah had not ministered to any widows in the land but, instead, went to a foreign widow in Zarephath in Sidon. Elisha, as well, did not heal any lepers in Israel but, instead, healed Naaman, a Syrian general.
What was He saying? The “good news”, the liberty”, the “year of the Lord’s favor” that He had read from Isaiah were not only promises for Israel but also for all cultures and races, many of whom were seen as enemies at worst, and unworthy of God’s mercy as best. Jesus was declaring that God’s plan of redemption had always been universal in nature. He proclaimed that His purpose was to bring healing and to enact the “good news” for all cultures and races. Jesus had exposed their exclusivity, their religious racism, their mistaken view of God’s global salvation plan. And, they raged at Him; He was “not acceptable in His home town”!
How might we apply this to our immediate context? I realize I move into perhaps some controversial territory. We have been experiencing/enduring the Covid-19 pandemic for a number of months, and now the beginning of reopening the economy. Then, a little over a week ago, the disturbing images of a black man dying under the knee of a white police officer flashed across our screens. Soon, more disturbing images took over the media, as civil protests to police violence and racism turned violent and destructive. George Floyd’s death, once again, released an anger that has been simmering for decades (perhaps centuries). And, sadly, the church has often joined the prevailing culture in condoning, sometimes fostering, discrimination between races.
What shall we say? First, as believers in the truth of Scripture, we must acknowledge that every person is an image bearer of their Creator, and thus has worth and dignity, regardless of skin color. Then, we must put into practice the second part of the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. And, where we see the opposite, we should seek civil justice for those at the receiving end of hate. We must follow the example of Jesus, who ministered to a Samaritan woman, healed a Roman centurion’s son (both hated by the Jews), and told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Above all, we must embrace the core of the gospel that Jesus died for the sins of the world – the sins of all people. Jesus is not willing than any should perish.
The early church had its issues with discrimination along both religious and social lines. The apostle Paul realized the church in Galatia was having serious problems with these kinds of divisions. So, he exhorted them that this should not be.
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
Yes, the history of America is sadly tainted with the sin of discrimination and racism (as a country we are not alone). While there are many worthwhile Christian voices to be heard on this terrible tragedy, I appreciated what John Stonestreet said on Breakpoint: We must be extremely careful “…that one can only support either the police and law and order, or African Americans and justice… as if these are mutually exclusive options. Dichotomies like that are dangerous and disingenuous. We can support the institution of law enforcement and acknowledge that the terrible injustice that happened here happens too often. We can denounce lawlessness and still listen carefully to our African American neighbors describe their deep pain and disillusionment. We can support a right to protest and still denounce using protests as occasions for evil.
Above all, I, a follower of Jesus who happens to be white, can listen. I can, indeed if I am to love my neighbor as Christ commanded, I must care about the suffering of my fellow citizens, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church can lead the culture in addressing this suffering and its root causes, advancing justice, and caring for victims. Who else can?”