Kneeling with Kaepernick

What did you think when you first heard about the dark-skinned young man who dishonored one of his nation’s most sacred symbols, just to make a point? How did you feel about his public disgraceful treatment of his heritage for a personal social cause?

By the way, I’m talking about Jesus of Nazareth, not Colin Kaepernick.

When Jesus stood in a synagogue on a Sabbath and healed a man with a withered hand, he deeply offended the Jewish faithful in the room. And when Kaepernick sat for the anthem in a stadium on a Sunday, he deeply offended patriotic Americans across the country. But if we pause and take a deep breath, it’s quite possible that Jesus’ miracle can help us understand Kaepernick’s protest, and Kaepernick’s protest can help us understand Jesus’ miracle. 

First, how Jesus helps us understand Kaepernick:

Kaepernick is not Jesus, and I’m not saying Jesus followers should agree with Kaepernick. But his protest strikes a chord that harmonizes with Jesus, and should resonate with followers of Jesus. Even those who disagree with Kap should at least hear the strains of a familiar tune. This is because Jesus’ miracle demonstrated in action what he’d earlier declared with words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Then, before the miracle, Jesus asked a piercing question that should still echo today: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath–to save life or destroy it?” Jesus, like Kaepernick, prioritized the sanctity of people over the sacredness of the symbol. And while Kaepernick’s protest is not perfect (I wish he treated the police with more respect), the core of his message rings true: people’s lives are precious.

Jesus’ miracle was met with fury because people believed the Sabbath was more holy than the human. And much of the furor over Kaepernick’s protest has followed the same track: revering our symbols more than the people for whom our symbols stand. Kaepernick is taking a knee for people. For people to be treated better. For people’s rights to be protected. For people’s lives to be saved. Certainly, the flag and the anthem are sacred within American culture, but when we’re weighing the value of what is sacred, we could learn a lot from C.S. Lewis, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

The flag was made for people, not people for the flag.

Secondly, how Kaepernick helps us understand Jesus:

I’ve always struggled to understand how anyone could see Jesus heal a man’s hand and respond with fury. But this is because I see Jesus through Sunday School sanitized lenses of the 21st century, and not the gritty reality of the 1st century. For example, today the term “Good Samaritan” is a compliment, but what if I told you a story where pastors and Republicans were the bad guys, but ISIS executioners were the good guys?

Jesus was offensive. So damn offensive that they killed him for it. When we strip Jesus of his offense we end up worshiping a thin caricature rather than the Messiah. Jesus spoke in parables to mask his message. He told a grieving son to let the dead bury the dead. He overturned tables, insulted religious leaders and defied political rulers. There was even a time when he denied his own family! Jesus was not, and is not, Ned Flanders. He was a Kingdom revolutionary who constantly offended people by forcing them to reevaluate what  was sacred. That was why He healed a man on the Sabbath, heart racing and eyes blazing, as a stake-in-the-ground challenge to anyone who dared honor the symbol of the Sabbath over the holy human in front of him.

Kaepernick is offensive. Please understand that I am not suggesting that every Christian should have a uniform response to all the issues Kaepernick’s protest touches on. Nationalism, police tactics, civil rights, systemic racism–these are incredibly complicated topics that leave us plenty of room to disagree, as all families have room to disagree. All I am saying is that the very offense of Kaepernick’s protest is shining a spotlight on what is truly sacred.

That reminds me of Jesus.

And of far greater importance, I’m also saying that every time you read about Jesus healing on the Sabbath, if you want to understand the story of Jesus, you should think of Kaepernick, and then immediately superimpose today’s roiling emotions onto the ancient story.

And ask yourself, “Does Jesus still offend me?”

Because if Jesus doesn’t still offend us from time to time (and renew, uplift, and restore!!!) we are either already living in the new heavens and earth–

Or we are not listening.

What did you think when you first heard about the dark-skinned young man who dishonored one his nation’s most sacred symbols, just to make a point?

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About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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10 Responses to Kneeling with Kaepernick

  1. Marcie Owens says:

    I thought Kaplan was an ass. I might still, BUT I appreciate the similarities between him and Jesus. Love making something positive out of what appears to be all negative which is something God is pretty darn good at. We’ve accepted that Jesus was a “rebel” but it’s hard for today’s mind to accept how healing someone could be offensive. It must’ve felt to most people that He was purposely defying the powers that be. And He was!

  2. Sue Lichtig says:

    This really adds a new perspective to this controversy. Thanks, Tim.
    Have you ever read anything by Skye Jethani? Your thoughts remind me of his. He and Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales fame do a podcast once a week.

  3. Rachael Gardner says:

    Tim, I’m glad you spoke up about this. Hopefully there are ears out there to hear.

    Love you, Brother.

  4. Todd Owens says:

    I understand that he (Kap) has the right to express his feelings. Ironically the country he lives in and allows him to make millions of dollars as a sub par professional athlete, is the country he chose to take a “stand” against. I respect the fact that he took a knee. Though I feel that is still disrespectful, it takes effort on his part to show something. When he just sat, I thought that was the ultimate spit on our flag. While I realize that our country is far from perfect, I find it interesting that he takes a “stand” against racial inequality by protesting the national anthem of a country that has an African American president. I also find it interesting that he protests the injustices of the government, but shows up at a press conference wearing a t-shirt supporting Fidel Castro. I know his (Castro’s) time has passed, but I can honestly not think of Fidel Castro and just government at the same time. I know he is trying to do a good thing. I think he is going about it the wrong way.

    • Tim Owens says:

      Todd–yeah, that Castro shirt was an odd choice. Lotta Cuban Americans would have something to say about that!

      As far as the rest, and about him going about it the wrong way… protests are supposed to disrupt. That’s the whole point. When people rioted about police brutality against blacks in Ferguson and Baltimore, everyone said they should find a better way to make their point. Kap found a way that got everyone in the world talking about it, is completely non-violent, and despite how off-putting it is, it’s not disrupting traffic, people’s schedules, or anything. I gotta say, nonviolent + national conversation = good protest! 🙂

  5. Chris M. says:

    Tim,
    As always you bring a great perspective to things. First off let me tell you honestly I could care less that Kapernick kneels during the National Anthem. I believe it’s great for him to take a stand for something he feels needs more public attention. The real problem that I have with Kapernick is that he has no plan, no real action, nothing at all to back up or follow up on what he believes needs to be addressed. Yes, he is drawing additional attention to a national issue that has already been and continues to be brought to the public eye. But where is the plan, the actions that actually make a difference? Jesus had a plan and actions that made a difference. Also, Jesus gave up everything for what he believed in, including his own life. What is or has Kapernick given up or lost in this matter? Where is that sacrifice? Further Jesus addressed the REAL issues of his day. Kapernick is not addressing the real issues here, not even close. What the real issues are in the black community in America goes much deeper than white police violence against black citizens. So once he starts focusing on what really needs to be addressed and corrected on this issue, I will continue to care less whether he stands or kneels for the National Anthem.

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