They are lucky that what Black people are looking for is equality and not revenge. — Kimberly Jones
It was a spring of rude awakenings. First came the coronavirus pandemic. Then on May 25, George Floyd was killed by a policeman and America awoke in righteous indignation.
There were Black Lives Matter protests all over the country. Some became violent. It was a surprise to me when a substantial amount of people, including Christians, defended the rioting, physical altercations with police, even looting. I had assumed a follower of Jesus couldn’t condone violence.
Any attempt to turn Jesus into a placid fellow is a gross misreading of the Gospels. His lifestyle drew criticism and censure, while his teachings generated heated discussion and debate. He publicly called out specific people and groups for behaving badly, including those holding financial, religious, social and political power.
At the very least, Jesus would feel comfortable at a protest.
But would he yell in a policeman’s face? Would he hurl a brick through a precinct window?
The incident of Jesus cleansing the temple comes to mind.
All four Gospels tell the story, and all four portray a Jesus who was aggressive in actions as well as words. No matter how many times I read it, the scene plays out the same:
Jesus flipped over tables, kicked chairs and hurled money on the ground. People fled from him as he wielded his homemade whip. While we don’t know if he actually whipped or shoved people (I choose to believe he didn’t), Jesus was physically menacing. Person were afraid of him.
Because of this story, and it genuinely surprises me to write this, I find it plausible that Jesus would, under the right circumstances and for the right reasons, topple a monument or ominously stare down a line of policemen in riot gear. He would perhaps barge into a precinct and scatter Black teens’ files full of trumped-up charges all around the room.
As my daughter put it: “Jesus was a person of color, prosecuted by the government because he threatened revolution.”
There is more to the temple story, however.
If Jesus were anyone else, he would have immediately been arrested for disturbing the temple peace. But he was too popular; the people would have protected him. Jesus led a grass-roots revolution that he could have rode all the way into the Holy of Holies.
Instead, he left the city. He retreated to an upper room where he washed his disciples’ feet.
Jesus threatened revolution, but he didn’t actually lead a revolt. Not the kind the Pharisees and his disciples expected, anyway.
This is something with which all Christians must wrestle, both liberal and conservative. Most post-civil rights Christians assume real change involves political involvement to influence policy and laws. How do modern Christians storm the halls of power with the truth of God’s justice and at the same time reject earthly power, as Jesus did?
Jesus was simultaneously a revolutionary and a peacemaker. Consider all the different people that show up in the Gospel stories: Gentiles, Jews, women, the unclean, the mentally unstable, the sick and diseased, the wealthy and powerful, the destitute, the “sinners and tax collectors,” Pharisees and Sadducees.
All manner of people flocked to see his miraculous signs and were amazed at his teachings. Imagine if Christians were so infused with divine purpose and holy wrath that they attracted the same array of people. Would it not be miraculous?
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.