In many Christian traditions, today is observed as Good Friday, the day of Crucifixion.
It is a day commemorating the unjust execution of a man convicted of sedition. Crucifixion was a form of execution largely reserved for political criminals—crimes against the Roman Empire of the highest order.
We may read in the Christian Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth went to Jerusalem. That he went, knowing he would probably be arrested, knowing he would probably be killed. And he was afraid.
We may also read in the Christian Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth was a preacher to rich and poor, women and men. We may read his anger at the state of the Temple and its collusion with the Empire. We may read his consolations to the poor. We may read his vigorous condemnations of those inside his own tradition who ignored the plight of others.
Jesus is nothing if not a complex figure.
One of the things that I have taken from the Christian Scriptures, however, is the admonition to identify with the oppressed. As Gustavo Gutierrez says, there is a “preferential option for the oppressed,” and the Catholic Church has called the “preferential option for the poor.”
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is said to have “gone to the Cross” because of this preferential option for the oppressed. The Beatitudes were addressed to a multitude—and there was no multitude of Jewish wealthy.
The longest theological discourse Jesus is reported to have had in the Gospel of John is with a Samaritan woman at a well (note the significance of wells). He is corrected by a Syro-Phoenician woman when he says he has come only for the children of Israel. We are told he healed poor, injured, wounded, suffering people at every turn.
He—in the writings we have—expressed a preferential option for the oppressed.
So if we value the Christian tradition, how are we expressing a preferential option for the oppressed?
One of the most important ways I believe we can choose an option for the oppressed is to claim, declare, and believe that Black lives matter.
Those who say that “Happy Holidays” erases “Merry Christmas” but don’t see that “All Lives Matter” erases the importance in this moment of “Black Lives Matter…”
Those who are over and over defacing and destroying Black Lives Matter signs in front of homes and churches…
Those who are arguing that if we say “Black Lives Matter,” we must also say in the same breath, “Police Lives Matter…”
Those who are threatening Black Lives Matter protestors at political rallies…
Those who argue that protests inconveniencing others are inappropriate, illegal, and, ineffective, those who forget the lengths to which those of earlier movements for equality had to go…
Those who say the plea “Stop Killing Us” is unfair and inaccurate…
I believe that all these expressions—largely by Christians—show a misunderstanding of the message of their Lord.
He was killed for insisting that his tradition not create a hoard of cash for Empire. He was killed for unjust taxation. He was killed for tribute to Empire. I think that all these expressions ignore the man from Nazareth who is said to have “taken the form of a slave.”
Our tribute to Empire is paid, in part, in the lives of Black and brown people in the United States. The stranglehold of Empire is maintained in part by the incarceration and death of these people of all genders.
Similarly, this Jesus who spoke with the Canaanite woman, the Roman Centurion, the Syro-Phoenician woman, and the Samaritan woman, the Jesus who told the story of the Good Samaritan and the dismissive Jewish leaders…
Would this Jesus threaten Muslims in his communities? Would he countenance their deaths? Would he ignore their fear of their neighbors?
I do not think he would.
“They will know you are Christians by your love.” I am not Christian. I describe myself as Christian-adjacent. And yet I do find this admonition compelling.
To love. Not to fear. To receive peace. To put our lives into the service of our friends. To exhibit and nurture virtues that come through relationship with the Spirit of Life.
These are some of the gifts the Christian Scriptures, and they are good gifts, good admonitions.
Today, I honor the mourning and darkness my Christian friends experience as they wait for the Daybreak of Easter. I honor the shadows that will be cast aside by the kindling of the New Fire of the Easter Vigil. I honor the silence of the Tenebrae Services that encourage meditation on what it means to suffer.
I honor all the Christians I know who are rising in support of the oppressed and suffering, in solidarity with Jesus of Nazareth, the one they call the Lord.