Colonizer Jesus vs. Historical Jesus
As a theonerd, nothing drives me crazier than when well-meaning, big-hearted liberal Catholics who are mostly on the right side of the preaching of Jesus just uncritically reject propositions they associate with conservatism and never bother to check their rhetoric against the Magisterial teaching of the Church. It’s the photo negative of the MAGA habit of rejecting Church teaching because it smells too “liberal”. Today and tomorrow, I want to look at a sample of this sort of stuff and talk about what it gets right and wrong. Today, we will consider so-called “Colonizer Jesus”:
Let’s parse this carefully.
Yep, Jesus is not white. Portrayals of him as such are a mixture of ordinary piety which has always cast Jesus in the garb of the culture imagining him and a pernicious tool of white supremacy that casts him as the chum of the oppressor over the oppressed. These days, MAGA antichrist “Christians” often very consciously make him white and strenuously object to imagining him as brown with shrieks about “wokeness”. But the reality is that every attempt to picture him is simply some artist’s stab at rendering an ideal according his best lights, which will usually be tinted by his culture’s standard ideals for goodness and beauty. There’s nothing wrong with that. The only thing that is wrong is trying to make your culture’s standard into Divine Revelation and everybody else’s culture a threat to your white supremacy.
Not sure what “Christian” means here. Is he Jewish? Of course. But he is the source of all the teachings Christians believe, so it seems absurd to try to divorce him from the term altogether. He is not his own disciple, sure. But his teaching is Christian teaching.
He was a patriot for his people as much as the prophets were, but he was not a nationalist, which is what “patriot” often means in common MAGA parlance. He sees Israel as Chosen, but Chosen for the sake of the Unchosen. As he put it, “Salvation is from the Jews”–because he is from the Jews and he is Salvation. He loves his people as all normal people love their people. He is not a jingo who diminishes all other people in diabolical pride for his own people, which is what the colonialist “patriot” nationalist does.
Given that he warns repeatedly that just retribution will be meted out to the sinner in parable after parable (albeit a retribution that will be the fruit of the sins of those who refuse God’s will since we are punished by, not for, our sins), the fantasy that he never speaks of just retribution is just not true.
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25:41–46).
Yes, he is all about mercy. But whereto serves mercy but to confront the visage of offense? His message of mercy presupposes that we are desperately sinful and in need of mercy.
Yes. He died for our sins. As he repeatedly tells us he is going to do. What is the problem with that? “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45).
The complaint about sending sinners to hell is a solid point. Sinners send themselves to hell (assuming any go there, which we don’t know). Jesus’ whole life is ordered toward saving, not damning people. The lie that Jesus saves us from his sadistic Father, not from sin, is the most pernicious one in the garbled American theology of salvation, along with the schizophrenic claim that the same God who saves also itches to damn.
Jesus is silent in the face of his own oppression.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Is 53:7)
But both he and the entire Israelite prophetic tradition are extremely vocal in the face of the oppression of others. See Matthew 23. He teaches his disciples to put up their swords and AR-15s and to answer violence with non-violence. But he does not tell them to be silent in the face of oppression.
“Condemns sinners“. That depends on what you mean by “condemns” and what you mean by “sinners”. In the gospels, even Jesus’ condemnations are ordered toward the hope of salvation, as when he tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23) The goal there is for Peter to get a clue, not for him to be damned. He tells people what they need to hear, and his interactions vary, depending on the hardness of the heart he is speaking to. With many people there is not a jot of condemnation, because they are willing to listen. So with the woman taken in adultery he offers nothing but mercy. With others, he turns their questions back on them in true rabbinical fashion. With the Rich Young Man, he offers a challenge that is refused. And with the hardened and self-righteous in Matthew 23, he offers rhetorical dynamite in a desperate attempt to smash through their hard shells. But he never seeks the damnation of anybody. As he says, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. (Jn 3:17–18)
Endorses Church and State. Certainly nothing like the current freak show amalgamation of God, Mammon, and Mars that is the bread and butter of MAGA rhetoric is found on the lips of Jesus. But neither is there a particular concern to oppose the state in his teaching. He tells his disciples to pay their taxes. He eludes the snare set for him in asking whether it is lawful to do so with his famous reply, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto the God the things that are God’s.” His approach to the the Sanhedrin–the local governing body in Israel–and to the teachers of the law is always to subordinate the law of Moses to the first and second commandments so that the law is made for man, not man for the law. As his disciples will do after him, he insists that he must obey God rather than men, so mere human rules that harm the human person are trampled underfoot with extreme prejudice. He tells his to disciples to respect the office, even if the man occupying it is unworthy of it. But he seems to regard the state largely as a machine for keeping order so that the real work–the work of the kingdom of God–can proceed in relative peace and quiet.
He famously has no use for dreams of power or schemes to make him an earthly king. The MAGA Faustian bargain of bowing to the devil for all the kingdoms of the earth is the first thing he rejects at the start of his ministry and the MAGA dreams of vengeful violence and gun rights he shoots down with the counsel to let evildoers strike us on both cheeks. But neither does he deny being a king. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, he claims royal authority to judge the world. He rides into Jerusalem as the Son of David, a kingly claim. And he promises his apostles that they shall sit on twelves thrones. Rather than flatly deny being a king, he redefines what “king” means. “My kingdom is not of this world” summarizes his attitude.
With regard to the traditional family unit, he affirms the Jewish conception of the family and assumes it as the basic building block of society, but with a crucial addendum: he radically subordinates it to his Kingdom.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Mt 10:34–38).
In short, for Jesus, building blocks are for building and prioritizing blood and clan and tribe over the kingdom is a form of idolatry.
So much for Colonizer Jesus. What is, I think, being resisted here (and rightly so) is the creation of a Jesus who serves the oppressor and who tells the oppressed to shut up and take it. Insofar as he is misused to do that, this totem of Empire is an idol and not the Christ revealed in the New Testament and the Tradition and makers of memes like the above have their hearts in the right places to fight such lies. But the assumption that Jesus as Judge and King is nothing but a tool of oppression by the powerful over the weak is to forget that Jesus’ most dire warnings are directed precisely against the rich and powerful oppressor the meme maker opposes. Jesus’ fierce warnings are, like the whole Old Testament prophetic tradition’s warnings, directed against the oppressor of the least of these and against the rich and powerful who sell the needy for silver and the righteous for a pair of sandals. To drain Scripture of that is not to protect the oppressed from a fake mascot for Empire, but to rob them of the Defender of the stranger, the orphan and the widow and leave them helpless before the proud and rich in the psalms who say, “Who sees? God is silent and will do nothing. Come, let us oppress righteous man. For he is obnoxious to us.”
You know, like they did to Jesus.
Tomorrow, we will look at Historical Jesus.