Unseeing Eyes: How Race Blinds Us

In Mark 8.11-21, we read of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and later His disciples. The Pharisees were arguing with Him, demanding a sign from heaven to test Him. Jesus seems tired, disgusted perhaps, having suffered rejection in Nazareth while teaching in the synagogue (Mark 6.1-6) and having grieved the loss of his cousin, John, beheaded by King Herod (v. 14-29) after He commissions the Twelve (v. 7-13). Jesus later feeds 5,000 men, the number not including women and children (v. 30-44), displays His rulership over the water and wind (v.45-52) and heals the sick (v. 53-56). He will feed 4,000 more in the opening of chapter eight.

Jesus sighs… deeply. He asks, “Why does this generation demand a sign?” I wonder if He is sighing over the reality that His presence and His words are not enough. He knows that He is the Messiah but they just can’t see it. He knows that His revelation is from the Father but they just can’t hear it. But like the people in His hometown who cannot see Jesus because of their seeming familiarity with His family and place of origin, the Pharisees are not able to see the true identity of Jesus because of their familiarity with the law. The Pharisees don’t want to be re- educated; they have no plans to entertain the thought that He is the Messiah. And Jesus, knowing this, departs.

Once Jesus and His disciples have boarded the boat, they realize that they do not have enough bread for the journey. They had forgotten to bring more onboard. Consequently, the disciples began to discuss among themselves this lack and Jesus warns them of the “yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”  The yeast or leaven is used as a metaphor, representing “inveterate (deep rooted, firmly established, habitual) mental and moral corruption, viewed in its tendency to infect others.” Though they have seen more of Jesus, it only takes a one experience with the works of King Herod or a conversation with the Pharisees to cause them to forget or to lose sight of who Jesus is.

And then Jesus, the Master Teacher, does something that I find to be amazing. He reviews the lesson for His students, His apprentices: “Why are you discussing that you do not have any bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?” “Twelve,” they told Him. “When I broke the seven loaves for the 4,000, how many large baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?” “Seven,” they said. And He said to them, “Don’t you understand yet?”

There are those who say, “They all look alike.” But, unless you are talking about a blood- related family member (and even then, it may not be true), then statements like these speak of our belief that persons of the same social construct of race look alike. We are so familiar with race that we feel as though we have seen persons we have never met and experienced persons because they lived in a particular neighborhood. Without introduction or conversation, we know how they are. When in fact, all we see is the representation of race; all we hear, all we know are the laws of race. We only see social colors and by this I do not mean the physical people, but the meanings that these words represent.

But, the world’s cultures are not composed of pair upon pair of identical twins. We do have a common origin as the Genesis narrative as well as the present anthropological findings inform us that human beings originated from a single set of parents. But, we are not all born of a single set of cultural parents. There is not one socially colored black Eve and Adam, one socially colored yellow Eve and Adam, one socially colored white Eve and Adam and so forth and so on though there are persons who believe in this theory known as polygenesis.These socially colored groups did not all grow up in the same household, sit at the same table, go to the same schools, have the same experiences. We do not all share the same last name, much less the first. We are different. The social coloring and thereby categorizing of people groups has more to do with membership and belonging. Which persons belong to me? Which persons can I possess in mind because I know how they are (which is not synonymous with who they are) through this fictive relationship and understanding created through race?

Race, this leaven, has changed the way that we see and do not see people. Like the disciples of Jesus’ day, we have eyes but do not see. We look away. We look past. We look around. We look down. Though we have heard the words of Christ and have the indwelling of God’s Spirit, we are not able to see past our social traditions and racialized experiences. No matter what we have seen or heard, we remain unable to be a witness of the regenerative power of a new life in Jesus Christ because of our familiarity with race. Despite our confession of Christ and our regular Sunday morning attendance, we can only see what race tells us to see. Its prejudices has stopped our ears and unfortunately, we don’t want to become the answer to the prayer of Christ for unity (John 17).

Friends, race does not provide sight; instead, it reveals our inability to see people as they are. We are not seeing people but turn to the caricatures in our minds and the stories that we have been told. We have never really seen a black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige person and we never will. These socially colored people don’t exist much like dragons, tooth fairies, unicorns, leprechauns and Santa Claus. Race has caused us to question our own sight. We have no confidence in our eyes. We do not trust what we see but instead, depend upon the vision of race. This is how race blinds us. Lord, recover our sight. Amen.

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