For centuries, Jesus was depicted in images taken from the dominant group that worshiped him. In Europe, images of Jesus presented a white Christ that bore the features of European Christians and their rulers. African American theologian James Cone presented his argument that Christ is black. His point was not that all Christians should shape Christ in their own image. This is the approach of empire theology: just like the later Roman Empire envisioned Christ in terms of its emperors, with royal insignia, Christ has been envisioned in terms of dominant humanity ever since. We know that common European and US images depict Christ as light-haired and sometimes even blue-eyed.
Simply adding images of Christ that resemble minorities does not present in and of themselves meaningful challenge to the notion of empire. Pluralism and multiculturalism often help to shore up empires.
Talking about Christ as black, along the lines of Cone’s argument, means that Jesus is found on the side of minorities, lives in solidarity with them and joins their struggles, and from there liberates everyone. The black Christ challenges dominant understandings and empire based theologies of Christ, just like Jesus challenged dominant understanding and empire based theologies of the Messiah and of God. (excerpts from Rieger, Joerg. Jesus vs. Caesar (p. 39). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.)
Liberation Theology at its fundamental core understands that Jesus is found on the side of minorities, lives in solidarity with them and joins their struggles, and from there liberates everyone.
Consider meditating with the question, what images of God or Jesus do you encounter in your day-to-day life? Consider media, TV Ads, conversations with friends or co-workers, your children or parents.
How might an image of Jesus as homeless, or an immigrant, or abused child change your image of Jesus? How might an image of Jesus as a leader in Black Lives Matter, or Gun Control Activist, or Environmental Activist change your image of Jesus? What if your primary image of Jesus was not hung on the cross, but feeding the 5,000, or restoring sight to the blind?
What questionable images of God or Jesus do you encounter in your community? How might you respond?
As we move through Advent and make space for Jesus to be born in our hearts, I suggest that a reimage of Jesus might be in order. Throughout the Gospels Jesus restores community not from the top down, but from challenging the notion of an elitist religion and the structures of religion. His new reimaged community is comprised by those who serves the true God, and whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, father, and mother. (Mark 3:3)
With much love and peace,