[Today I begin a series of posts on Jesus being antiracist.]
The idea of race is only 500 years old, created by white people to keep people of color under control in a white society. Yet Jesus encountered similar structures and irrational bias toward people who were considered not only “different” but “untouchable.” He told a story (see Luke 10:25-37) which we know as “The Good Samaritan.” If the story was told 100 years ago in a white church in a Southern state, with the Samaritan being a Black man and the man attacked by robbers and in need of help being a White man, perhaps a wealthy white man, the congregation would have been offended and angry. The same was surely true when Jesus told the story.
Jewish people in Jesus’ day had nothing to do with people from Samaria. The region of Samaria lay between Judea in the South and Galilee in the North, and Jews would go across the river and travel to the East to avoid it. If they thought about the at all, they despised them, perhaps hated them. For Jesus to tell a story making a Samaritan man “the hero” of the story must have offended and angered many of the people listening that day.
Jesus told the story in response to a conversation about the Law which governed their whole life and which they believed came from God. An “expert in the Law” agreed with Jesus that to have eternal life, what God wanted most was for people to love God and to love their neighbor. So the man asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” … Who am I supposed to love? To love as I love myself?
Jesus answered with this story making a hated Samaritan their example to follow. Be like this Samaritan, Jesus is saying, and you will live. Among White people who despised and hated Black people, the story rightly understood says to be like the Black man who helped someone like you when he was in need. In another place, Jesus said to love those who despise you, those whom you consider to be your enemy.
Jesus was antiracist. He challenged the biased structures and society of his day. He turned everything upside down – “the first will be last and the last first” – love your enemies and do good to those who hate you – be like this “Black man” (he said to the “White” people of his day).