It’s June, 2020 and worldwide attention has shifted once again to “Lives Matter”, specifically Black Lives Matter. Just when it seemed 2020 would be all about the religious fervor around COVID-19, our attention shifted following the murder of George Floyd to racism and all of the ugliness that goes with it. The organization Black Lives Matter came to the forefront. Riots, looting and demonstrations (peaceful and violent) erupted in many cities and social media amplified emotions everywhere. Soon arguments and shaming surfaced around concepts like All Lives Matter and it began to be difficult to even talk about each of our perspectives for fear of triggering reactions, public outing and destruction of reputation and even loss of employment. How is it even possible to have civil discourse in this hyper-reactive environment?
At times like this, it is never a bad idea to return to the perfect human, the Creator made flesh or as C. S. Lewis often said “God with skin on”. When all other ideas fail, when humanity has lost its way, it is time to look into another dimension – a heavenly one. Nobody who has ever walked the earth demonstrated that lives matter better than Jesus. We would do well to consider this deeply. Here are but a few examples:
It is difficult to over-emphasize how despised Samaritans were in first century Palestine. They were half-breeds who were neither Jew nor Gentile and religious oddities who did not worship in or respect the temple in Jerusalem which was then the centre of Judaism. Physically separated from the rest of the nation in Samaria, they were outcasts in every sense of the word. You can sense this in these incidents recorded in scripture:
The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” John 8:48
If it isn’t obvious, this is a nasty slur directed at Jesus by his opponents who were challenging his legitimacy.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) John 4:9
From the well known encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan and her reaction to Jesus speaking with her indicates the prejudice that was rampant in society at that time. In case there is any doubt, John (the writer of this account) adds his editorial explanation.
There are other incidents in scripture that make it clear there was a deep systemic racism in society at the time toward Samaritans. What was Jesus response? Did he don a “Samaritan Lives Matter” robe and lead a protest? No, all he did was make Samaritans the heroes of his stories (e.g. The Good Samaritan), intentionally visit Samaria and hang out there and heal Samaritans on several occasions. In everything he said and did “Samaritan Lives Matter”.
Leprosy was a horrific skin disease that was rampant in the first century. While the physical disease was terrible, what was possibly worse was the societal rejection and isolation that went with it. Due to the highly contagious nature of the disease, lepers were isolated from mainstream life based on the clear instructions in laws of the Old Testament that had come from Moses himself. By the time we get to Jesus’ generation, this had expanded to leper colonies and severe reactions whenever a leper was spotted. Lepers lived daily with wondering if their lives matter. Jesus had other ideas:
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Matthew 8:2-3
Jesus not only healed this man but physically touched him while doing so. The physical and emotional scars were healed at the same time.
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Mark 14:3
What is fascinating about this incident is the straightforward and almost nonchalant way Jesus is described as hanging out and eating a meal with “Simon the Leper”. Clearly not an unusual occurrence for Jesus. Again, there are many other recorded interactions between Jesus and lepers. To Jesus, “Lepers Lives Matter”.
In the 21st Century, we have become used to women having equal footing with men (at least in the west). While there is still more to be done in this area, women can vote, have the same legal rights as men and can even serve in the military. In Jesus day that was far from the case. They were essentially the possession of men. Amazingly, this didn’t begin to change until the 20th Century. Again, Jesus did not start a women’s liberation movement or even protest the treatment of women in any way. He just said and did things completely opposite to the society around him.
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. Luke 8:1-3
Luke, the gospel writer famous for detailed accounts, records that the twelve male disciples were not his only close companions but also several women. In fact, Mary Magdalene was likely equal to any of the males in her role in the roving band and Joanna and Susanna also had prominent roles. Even being seen with them in this manner would have been radical in the 1st Century.
Another key encounter between Jesus and women are the woman at the well (John 4) who, as noted earlier, was also a Samaritan. Not only did Jesus treat her with respect and honour but she was the first person outside the disciples to be told he was the Messiah. To use modern language, he “came out” to a Samaritan, “immoral”, woman.
Jesus defended a woman “caught in adultery” (John 8) and allowed “sinful women” to touch him and pour perfume on him (Mark 14, John 12). His manner and actions towards women were revolutionary in his time on earth and were a great offence to the ingrained societal misogyny that was rampant then. To Jesus “Women’s Lives Matter”
What About Now?
So how do we apply Jesus example to today? While this statement may enrage some and at the risk of being accused of being a racist myself I believe the answer is not demonstrations, rioting or protest. It is very simple; live and act intentionally toward every other human, regardless of race, gender, age, social status, health or whatever other label may be applied to them. Every human bears the image of their Creator and is worthy of respect, honour and opportunity. Speak up and if required, act in a way that demonstrates this conviction. It will likely cost you something as you do.
At the moment, Black Lives Matter. I have no issue saying and living that since there is much to be done in society in regard to racism. However, I resolve to follow Jesus example.
Lives Matter. Period.