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For Ferguson, Jesus has a different path for those with and without power
I was up late on Tuesday night watching the #evangelicals4justice Twitter feed. It was discouraging to hear the news that the grand jury in the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown trial decided not to indict Wilson, to me. I was telling my cell last night that I figured that the justice system, a primary perpetrator of racism in the United States, would disappoint me, I just did not think it would be this bad.
The question of justice is a complicated one. My whole faith is based on the fact that God was merciful and saved me from death—me the sinner, the wrongdoer. So shouldn’t I feel justified that the grand jury was merciful on the killer cop? I am not so sure. I’m not really sure the punitive system would have done him much good, but I keep hearing cries of his defense—even in the circles in which I run! Even though I am not sure prison was the best answer to the question, I am certain that Michael Brown did not need to die. And I am thankful that God will be merciful on him, too.
I wonder what would have happened if the grand jury decided to indict Wilson. I wonder what would have happened if he was convicted and spent the rest of his life in jail. Does that make Michael Brown any more alive? Does it make the systemic racism that began this whole mess any more dead? In some sense, getting earthly justice here, would have given some people the illusion that battle is over. (Like when slavery was abolished, or the Civil Rights Acts became law, or Barack Obama became president.) I don’t think we are even close to healing the scars of racism in the U.S.
The Kingdom of God works distinctly differently than the U.S.'s system of justice, thank God. I am a citizen of a different kingdom and my hope is in Jesus. Jesus bridges the gap between the powerful and the powerless, and we are agents that help that happen. We have work to do beyond a theological utterance. The world needs more than platitudes. I actually need to do and be something greater.
There are similarities between those with and without power, but that latter distinction is noteworthy. Most of the protestors around the country are peaceful, just like most of the cops around the country are not killers. I think Michael Brown was afraid, Darren Wilson says he was too. I suppose the biggest difference is that when Brown is afraid, he has to quiver and hope nothing happens—when Wilson is, especially if his fear is justified by a threat for his life beyond a reasonable doubt (whatever that means), he can kill. Wilson said his victim looked like a demon. What if Brown called Wilson a blue-eyed devil? That difference in power and posture is too noteworthy not to consider.
In this discussion of power, let’s think about Jesus and the least of these; how he treated those with power and those without power. Although everyone can receive his gift, in the New Testament, it seems like the least of these can more readily. Those full of power, I think, have a harder time entering the Kingdom of God, then those who have been systematically oppressed for 400 years.
I think that’s what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:2: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” I think Jesus may judge those with power with that same power. I think Jesus is warning us. The book of Matthew serves as an indictment against those with power. If you want to read the climax, read chapters 23 to 25. Jesus is disappointed that the people with influence and power are using it for evil and not for his Kingdom. He calls them hypocrites. They were supposed to be his allies, but he calls them children of hell, who are making others twice that. They ignore the heart of the law—they miss the forest for the trees. They are clean on the outside, but not inside. They are full of “greed and self-indulgence.” They are like “whitewashed tombs,” but inside they are full of “dead people’s bones.” Speaking directly to those with power he says, “You also outwardly apprentice righteousness to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Jesus spoke truth to power. He reserved his harshest words for them.
Matthew 24 is an apocalyptic discourse that is telling those with power that their power structures will fall one day too, that they cannot hold on to their precious Temple, that another Empire will come and destroy them. Power consolidation will not save them. Finally, in Matthew 25, he indicts those who did not care for the least of these, those who could not look into their eyes and see the image of Jesus. Who would he say those words to today? I think also the powerful and the privileged. I think he would encourage them to rid themselves of their power identity in favor of one in him.
I believe our job, as believers, is to comfort the afflicted as Jesus does in chapter 25. To me that means stand with them, disrupt oppressive systems, and work toward justice. Through our love, they will know Jesus. The powerful among us need to use our power to help, not to hurt; we need to submit ourselves to God. Likewise, as believers, our job is to convict and covert. That might mean befriending someone with a license to kill, and telling him or her the truth about the emptiness of the power that has filled them and blinded them.
Everyone needs Jesus. And everyone has a place at his reconciling table. Those with power and those without, though, have different journeys to take.