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. 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, and more. 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?