2017-10-11 / Columns

Jesus’ Response to Racial Tension

By Jay O’Connor

We live in a time of significant racial tension in our society. Many African-Americans feel they continue to be treated as less than equal. They are angry about that so they march with Black Lives Matter or they refuse to stand during our national anthem. There was also a violent clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, and there is a movement to do away with monuments that honor soldiers of the Confederacy.

Many blacks feel that we who are part of the racial majority have no idea what people deal with as minorities in America. They are probably right. As an illustration, I’ll share a story from the life of one of my seminary professors. As a young woman she had worked as a nurse in Boston. One evening after work, she was standing on the corner outside the hospital waiting to cross the street. A young white man was riding his bike and as he passed in front of her he showered her face with a full mouth of saliva. How would you or I feel if someone did that to us? Rage!! That’s how you’d feel, and all because of the color of your skin.

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, Jesus had a discussion with an expert in the Law of Moses. The lawyer asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turns the question around saying, “What do you think?” The lawyer answers “Love God and love my neighbor as myself.” It then says, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Maybe he is looking for a loophole. After all, he is a lawyer.

He’s actually being self-righteous. He wants Jesus to affirm that he’s been good enough to get to heaven. Instead, Jesus blows away his self-righteousness with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story of a Samaritan who rescues a Jew who has been robbed and beaten and left on the side of the road.

This story would have shocked the lawyer. Why? Because the Jews hated Samaritans for both racial and religious reasons. The Samaritans were a people of mixed ethnicity, part Jewish but mostly Gentile. In their religion, they accepted only part of the Hebrew Scriptures. That was very offensive, especially to an expert in the Law. He despised those Samaritans with a racial and religious hatred.

But in Jesus’ story, the Samaritan is the good guy, the compassionate one. What is Jesus’ response to racism? Go out and love your neighbor as yourself. My neighbor is every human being regardless of what his or her race or religion is. Jesus would say to blacks, to whites and to every shade in between, go out and love even those who haven’t loved you. Love has the power to heal broken relationships and to build bridges of reconciliation.

Jay O’Connor is the pastor of Walton First Baptist Church.

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