We might need to know our Euro-centrism needs a lesson
By Tim McNutt
Throughout this summer I’ve been noticing various social media posts that attempt to describe Jesus as transcending all nationalities and ethnicities. I’m guessing the point of these posts is that Jesus ought to be acknowledged as ‘above’ our current racial tensions. In these posts, Jesus is defined as a pan-global figure and therefore beyond any debatable skin color. Any emphasis on nationality and ethnicity ought to be removed because Jesus is to be interpreted as a one savior fits everyone.
However, there’s something about these posts that misses the mark. It’s a realization that compared with the scriptural record even these types of posts are still inherently racist. These posts may sound great, but what’s often left unsaid exposes the author’s need to remake Jesus from their own so-called color-free perspective.
These authors are missing the biblical narrative. It seems unfathomable to them that their neutral Jesus arose out of the lineage of one man (Abraham) and one nation (Israel). (Sorry, but God did choose one nation above all others for the salvation of the world, and it wasn’t America.) Israel was the Lord’s preference as his chosen people and granted them blessings that have never been granted to any other nation (Romans 9.4-5). It was only according to the flesh of Israel that Jesus became Messiah King over all peoples.
Following Jesus does not begin with the New Testament. Instead, God’s gospel narrative began in Genesis. Meaning, when we recreate a Jesus who is somehow beyond all ethnicities and nations, we’re effectively erasing God’s salvation history in the Old Testament. The eventual arrival of Jesus was not a salvation back up plan, but always part of God’s promises to his chosen people Israel. I wonder if the social media creators/authors would be willing to meet these Middle Easterners called by God as the singular source of salvation for the entire world?
Jesus specifically came into this world as part of a Jewish, Middle Eastern background as part of God’s plan. His entire life was spent traveling through areas that would make many extremely uncomfortable. Even more specifically, Jesus said that he came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel before the rest of the gentile nations (Matt. 10.5-6; 15.24). Why? Because of God’s choice to first awaken the hearts of his people Israel and then have the Jews share the good news with the rest of the nations. It may not fit with those who claim nationalities or ethnicities don’t matter, but the Lord used one nation to bring about his global salvation plan.
The resurrection of Jesus did not change his ethnic features either. From the gospel records we know that the disciples continued to recognize Jesus. No matter how his resurrected body appeared, Jesus was still recognized as the Middle Eastern man that he was before the crucifixion. Meaning, even via resurrection and ascension, Jesus still carried his Middle Eastern features. There was no post-resurrection neutralizing transformation in order to make Jesus more globally acceptable. Such imaginative thinking misses God’s point that it was a chosen Jew who was used to bring renewal to a chosen nation (Israel) and only then would the world be saved. Yes, God so loved the world that he gave us his son, but never forget that son was born from a despised Jewish family.
You’ve probably seen the same social media posts – “Jesus wasn’t Black, Asian, Latinx, or White!” Almost conveniently, the lists almost always forget to mention Middle Easterners or more specifically, Jewish. But Jesus was. And that makes the still recognizable and yet resurrected Jesus different than most who claim him as their own. We may all be one in Christ Jesus, but that never negates who we are or where we came from in this world. Instead the hostilities are meant to be broken and peoples of every nation and tribe are to come together to worship the resurrected Jesus.
When we try to come up with a bland, homogenized image of Jesus we’re missing the point that it’s God’s narrative not ours. Parts of his narrative should make us uncomfortable because God often chooses the weak and least likely rather those attempting to control the world. We can argue all we want, but Jesus was first born in a specific time, place, and culture in history to be there for the rest of the world’s salvation. God’s plan, not ours. If you want to tell a story, mind God’s narrative first.
Tim is a pastor, a teacher, a DMin student at Northern Seminary