Color of the Cross

“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hided their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.”

~Isaiah 53.2-3, NRSV

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

~Luke 1.1-4, NRSV

A film written and directed by Jean Claude LaMarre who also portrays this interpretation of a socially colored black Jesus Christ and released in 2005, Color of the Cross proposes that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was racially motivated, a hate crime to employ a twenty- first century lens (which is the problem with this new narrative).  This “Jesus” is described as a “dark- skinned Nazarene” whose Messianic identity is questioned because of the social construct of race.  But, even if I suspended disbelief and ignored the continued use of unfounded and irreverent commentary poorly justified by a weak racial conspiracy theory and inspired by the historical mistreatment of African and African Americans, I cannot excuse the changing of the story, His story.

What has been described as the “greatest story ever told” is in Color of the Cross the story of millions of persons around the world, that of discrimation and hatred based on the social coloring of skin. Debbi Morgan who portrays Mary, the mother of Jesus asks Joseph, “Do you think they’re doing this because he’s black.”  Joseph responds, “No, they’re doing this because he is the Messiah.” He, this “Jesus,” is considered a false prophet because he claims to be the Messiah though a socially colored black man.  In fact, it is described as blasphemy: “He is black.  To say that he is the Messiah is blasphemy,” says one of the characters.  Another unnamed character says later, “A kingdom of dark- skinned Jews?  I want no part of such a kingdom.”  And when the Roman soldiers come to arrest this “Jesus” in the Garden of Gethsemane and asks, “Which one of you is Yeshua of Nazareth?”, Peter identifies himself as the man they are looking for.  The Roman soldier tells Peter that “he is not black enough.”

This is another gospel with a knife fight at the passover meal and a “Jesus” who says to the disciples who could not watch with him while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Excuses. All I ever hear is excuses.  Don’t you think that I am tired?”  Not only were sacred Scriptures used out of context and out of chronological order but “verses” were added that suggested another reason for the life, ministry and death of Christ.  He did not come into the world to save sinners– at least not in Color of the Cross (I Timothy 1.15).  No, the story of Jesus Christ is subjected to the American story of race; it serves its purposes.

The movie ends with his death on the cross and then a flashback to his conversation with Thomas who asked, “How does it feel to be different?  This “Jesus” laughs and says, “In my Father’s eyes, we are all different yet we are the same.”  He shares the story of his birth, saying that his mother was denied lodging at a local inn because of this difference.  This was why she had to give birth in a manger.  Thomas says that he understands this difference being a poor fisherman and “Jesus” repeats the words of his Father, “In my Father’s eyes, we are all different yet we are the same.”

The end.  There is no resurrection.  Perhaps, this is because LaMarre had not read the words of Paul, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?  If there is not resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testifed of God that he raised Christ— whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be most pitied.” (I Corinthians 15.12-17, NRSV, emphasis added).  The fact that Christ is raised from the dead is what separates him from all others; it is the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian faith.  The songwriter says, “I serve a risen Savior/ He’s in the world today/ I know that he is living/ whatever men may say.”

The story of our precious Lord, Jesus Christ is not about the “color of the cross” or the social markers of a world he came to save.  If death had no power over him and he, in fact, “made captivity itself captive,” how could he then be a prisoner of race, which did not exist during the time of Jesus by the way (Ephesians 4.7)?  And “since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.  For it is clear that he did not come to help angels but the descendents of Abraham.  Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respec, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 4.14-17, NRSV).  He came into the world in the form of human for this purpose alone.

I would hope that Christian believers would not allow 300 years of a racialized history to distort more than 2,000 years of resurrection history.   Color of the Cross has misrepresented His message and only its faith in race is in vain.

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