Interpreting Christ

I wrote the following as a response to a Facebook post claiming Jesus couldn't be an ethnic minority because he "was persecuted almost entirely by his own people." This comment was on a link by a friend that argued Jesus was a racial and ethnic minority.


I think we have to be careful about claims like Jesus "was almost entirely persecuted by his own people." The forces that were arrayed against him are mainly represented by Herod, who was part of a system appointed by Rome, and the priestly class, which also was compromised by Roman power and widely distrusted among the Jewish people of the day—thus the rise of the proto-rabbinic Pharisaic movement and Jesus himself.

As for the general populace, we have to situate Jesus within his context. Jesus was perhaps seen as both a sympathizer (associating with Roman tax collectors and soldiers) AND as a radical threat to the tenuous peace established under Roman rule. So it is not too surprising when the rubber met the road after his political march into the city and demonstration in the temple that he was given over to Rome to be made an example. Imperial hegemony upsets and undermines every social relation, especially with its constant threat of violence, which would culminate with the destruction of the second temple only 70 years after Jesus death.

As for Jesus' status as an ethnic minority: modern concepts of race and ethnicity didn't exist in the Hellenized world of the first century. You were a Roman citizen or you were not. You submitted to the peace of Rome or you did not. You were a slave or you were not. Jews certainly found themselves in a special kind of oppression under Roman rule, stubborn as they were about only God being God, and some power mad lunatic in Rome being just a man and not a god as the Romans claimed. This unwillingness to play along eventually saw Jerusalem sacked and burned.

That being said, what we're talking about here is an interpretive choice. Jesus is not just a man from the first century. He is Christ. If his life and message is good news for the poor, the captives, the oppressed, then we must ask who is poor now, who is captive now, who is oppressed now? And so we must say Jesus is with them, Jesus suffers alongside them, Jesus is one of them—he is poor, he is black, he is a woman, he is Palestinian, he is homeless. He is all these things and more, for all things hold together in Christ Jesus.