Grace, an Irish woman who follows this website, asked me to cover a topic that’s so heavy in the United States right now. She asked how I view pacifism with the racial tension that we have going on. I’m so glad that she asked it because it’s a good question to ask.
The Christian Bible is quite a progressive book. It’s not conservative by any means. “How?”, you may ask. Well, have you ever thought that the Bible could show us how to not only change racism, but also how to be pacifists? It’s quite interesting to be able to pull these things out of the Bible. I’ll start with a messy one: racism.
I want to start by saying that racism is not okay. In fact, Jesus fought racism. In fact, Jesus was racist at one point in his life. In the Christian tradition, Jesus was the Christ incarnate; the God with human flesh. This means that Jesus undoubtedly fought and faced the same battles that we do and that by Christian standards, he was 100% God and 100% human. Christianity has a bad habit of focusing on the divine perception of Jesus and not looking towards the humanity of Jesus. A racist Jesus definitely shows that he undoubtedly was a human with struggles of his own. To show this, let’s read Matthew 15:21-28.
“Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!” Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.”
Matthew 15:21-28 NLT
Let’s start out with the obvious: Jesus was a Jew and the woman was a Gentile. Let’s state the second obvious: Jesus is acting like he’s a mean girl and only wears pink on Wednesday’s. Jesus seems like a total snob. Who could have thought that Jesus would ever be this way? Are you asking why? Because he was a Jew. The Jewish people looked at Gentiles as unpure and dirty. Gentiles were seen as animals and savages. They were thought to be less than the Jews. Ironically, the Jews were oppressed by Gentiles, but we will get to that later.
Jesus was a Jew, and the woman was a Canaanite Gentile. Jews didn’t like Gentiles. Because Jesus was a Jew, he didn’t like Gentiles. If we examine the text, we notice that the woman recognizes Jesus and we see that he obviously ignores her. She repeats herself and he calls her a “dog”. What an insult. He then changes his stance. He heals her daughter of this demon that was tormenting her. What does all of this mean?
Jesus realized that she was a human in need. He felt sympathy for her after realizing how the cultural perspective was. Isn’t this amazing? Jesus realized that all people are equal. Jesus realized that his racist culture wasn’t just. Jesus changed his stance on racism. Does this mean Jesus was a bad person? No. It does mean that we should examine the way we are taught. Racism isn’t okay, and we have to search ourselves and the world around us to rid us of it.
Do you remember earlier when I mentioned the oppression of the Jews from the Romans Gentiles? There’s a story in the Bible that will help pull all of this together. Luke 22:47-53
47 But even as Jesus said this, a crowd approached, led by Judas, one of the twelve disciples. Judas walked over to Jesus to greet him with a kiss. 48 But Jesus said, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” 50 And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear.
51 But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
52 Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 53 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”
Let’s slow down for a second. The people who had come to attack Jesus were looked at with sympathy. Jesus knew that he was going to die. Why would he be so sympathetic to a group of betrayers? Why did Jesus stop his followers from attacking the people who would murder him? Jesus understood something important. Violence isn’t the answer. Even as he approached his death, the only thing that he stood for was humility and love.
The Jews anticipated the Messiah would come, and when he did, he would deliver them and replace Caesar on the throne. They imagined a man who would leave a violent revolution, just as their ancestors did. The Jews thought that the Messiah would conquer over the oppressive Roman Empire: those Pagan Gentiles that we talked about earlier. The funny thing is that Jesus’s kingdom that he spoke of was one of love and forgiveness, not power taken by violence.
What does that tell us in our modern times? This tells us that as we suffer oppression by those who appear to be horrible and oppressive or that appear to be “dogs”, we should treat them with love. Jesus stood up and spoke out against oppression and corruption, but he was always peaceful. There is nothing more powerful than standing with those who are oppressed. Whether you are a Christian or not, love is something that we all need. We can learn from this story how to live lives worth living.
Jesus understood that pacifism was a way to live. Don’t get me wrong, there will be moments where we need to pull out the whip and flip tables, but pacifism is a practice that we should strive for. We will get angry and there will be moments when we have to lash out, but we must strive to create peace. Let’s take these stories and apply them to our lives. Currently, there are white supremacists and nazis who are causing chaos. Let’s march with those who have been oppressed by this movement, fight against terror, and expose the corruption through love.