“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
~ Luke 4.18-19, NRSV
This scripture from Luke, an echo of the prophet Isaiah (61.1-2), has been referred to as the mission statement of Jesus the Christ. I like it for many reasons but primarily because of the qualifications for which Christ is enabled to serve us: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … because he has anointed me … He has sent me. There are no “I” statements.
There is no mention of his external appearance, familial pedigree or educational background. He doesn’t say, “Because I am the Son of God.” He did not get this position because of Who he knows or where he comes from.
No, Jesus is able because of God and God alone. The Spirit is from God. The anointing is from God. His directive is from God. Even his proclamation does not belong to him; it is “the Lord’s favor.”
But, these truths are not the point of my writing today. What strikes me is the fact that he came to restore sight to the blind and it is my belief that race makes us lose sight of what is true, what is real and what is valuable.
In America, everything is a matter of race. Not only does “cash rule everything around us” as we are a capitalistic system, a money- making machine; but race rules everyone around us. It is our wisdom and understanding; nothing seems to make sense apart from it. We believe that no matter what happened or didn’t happen, race has something to do with it.
We believe in race so much that we have a race card. We can play it and it can change a perspective and challenge an outcome. Race provides us with a kind of vision that distorts our various realities and in turn, divides us.
Primarily, race changes the way that we see ourselves. As Christians, we are new creatures in Christ but our racial identity is not left behind. It is incorporated into our beliefs, doctrines and practice of faith. We change the Scriptures to support it and to justify our racism, prejudice and segregationist practices. We become socially colored Christians who have socially colored churches where we worship a socially colored god and messiah. Despite the nature of our relationship with God, that is spiritual, race has to have something to do with it though it is physical and external.
But, Paul said to the people of Galatia, “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3.23-28, emphasis added).
He thought it important enough to repeat it to the saints at Colossae: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian and free; but Christ is all and in all! (3.9-11, emphasis added).
Who creates the new self? Race. Of course not, we did not confess Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives in order that we might be in relationship with race but with God. So, how is a racial identity then a part of our new identity in Christ Jesus?
Race is a ploy of the enemy in that it fights against unity with ourselves, our God, our neighbor and the stranger. Paul, when speaking to the Galatians, tells them (and us) “all of you are one in Christ.” All. Everybody. Everyone has been clothed with Christ and therefore, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.
Clothed with Christ and all of these external designations are removed. So, who are you wearing? And if with Christ, these external designations don’t matter then, why are we spending our lives trying to make Jesus fit into these categories?
Secondly, race changes the way that we see our Creator. If we cannot give up race then we must give up the true and living God. A racialized god or a god who incorporates race into the salvific plan is not the God of our Christian faith but an American god of a racial faith. The race god is temporal and our God is eternal. The race god hates some human beings but our God loves all that He has created. The race god says that some will have dominion over the earth and this includes other human beings but the God of the Christian faith says that we are all joint- heirs with Christ (Romans 8.17).
God has no faith in race and race has nothing to do with the work of Christ in us and for us. Race does not inform God’s view or treatment of us. Race is not a counselor to God or a friend of the Trinity. Race is with us not with God.
If we see God as socially colored black/white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, then we have made a god in our image and likeness. This is another god. If we cannot worship God unless this god “look like us,” then we again have created an idol. We cannot control the image of God.
Finally, race changes the way we see life and all of creation. We cannot see past race or beyond it. It is the plank in our eyes that must be removed (Matthew 7.3). We cannot read the Holy Scriptures and accept its revelation because of it. Race says that anything that does not support it is an enemy and a liar. But, let God be true and race a liar (Romans 3.4).
Race has blinded us to the truth of our new being in Christ Jesus. As believers, we are new so we don’t have to take on the old stereotypes of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation or today’s hand me down identities, patched together with pain, bitterness, unforgiveness and shame.
No, God says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43.19). Or, has race blinded you?