Part of getting settled into the new house was turning on cable service. I got hooked up on Monday and got a DVR. First thing I had to do was program all my favorite shows to record. One of the shows I like is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I like it because it makes a joke of events in politics which is easy to do with all the debates and primaries leading up to the Republican National Convention.
I was sad to find out that Comedy Central is not on the list of available channels, so I won’t get to watch the Daily Show. Though it’s easy enough to find other political satires on TV today. South Park and Family Guy regularly include jokes about our government leaders, Saturday Night Live too. Even when the jokes aren’t all that funny, these shows are a reminder me of our freedom to mock the government and its leaders.
Political satire is absolutely forbidden in many countries today, as was the case in the 1st Century Roman empire. Rather, the empire made regular occasion to reinforce its power over its subjects. One such occasion was a military parade. After a military win, Rome would sponsor parades throughout the kingdom in which soldiers would ride their mighty steeds through the center of town. Crowds would gather to show required awe at the war horses and shout obligatory praise of the soldiers.
There was no tolerance of political satire in the Roman empire, but that didn’t stop Jesus. He chose an unbridled colt to ride on and paraded into town on his unbroken, un-mighty war horse to mock the Roman military parades. This joke was also a sign of his ready for battle.
Crowds of Jewish pilgrims gathered for a city festival rallied around Jesus. They praised Him who was the Messiah coming in the name of the Lord. The people’s shouts of ‘Hosanna’ [Save us!] were reminiscent of the ancient Hebrew’s cries for salvation from slavery under the Egyptian Pharoah answered in the Exodus. The Exodus was a memory of ‘liberation from oppressive foreign rule’  and was the source of their continued dreams of freedom from Rome. The people anticipated Jesus to be the one to free them of the oppressive Romans and restore the Davidic Kingdom of Israel.
His chosen war horse was sign to the Temple leaders that He had not come to battle Rome and would not live up to the Kingdom expectations of the Jewish people. This joke of a parade was the last straw for Temple leaders. Any support the Sadducees and Pharisees may have been willing to give Jesus would be thwarted now.
Jesus’ ministry had been a threat to the Roman empire as long as the people believed He was the Messiah who would set them free from Rome. Word of the Messianic expectations and Jesus’ fulfillment of the Jews’ hope was spreading throughout the land. His potential threat to Roman rule had been rather quiet until now, but his mockery made it public for all of the Roman leaders in Jerusalem to see.
The Jewish leaders feared that the Roman governor of Israel would soon find out. And, if the Jews posed any threat to the reigning emperor, their Temple would be destroyed. As long as the Jews placated Rome with enough ceremonial reverence, they would be privileged to assemble for their religious practices and worship of God. As long as Jesus was a potential threat, then the Temple was at risk. If the Roman government representatives perceived him as a threat then the Temple was in jeopardy.
That meant Jesus would have to be neutralized in order to secure the Temple’s safety. Biblical scholar Richard Horsley suggests that the Gospel writer Mark presents Jesus as confronting ‘the Roman-sponsored Jerusalem rulers in a way reminiscent of the Exodus’, a confrontation that eventually led to the authorities’ decision to kill Jesus.
This same response to fear exists today. We are still willing to kill the innocent in order to protect what we cherish. You may be thinking that I’m talking about terrorism. We have waged war on terrorists who we perceive as a threat to our stature of power in the world. We fight these wars in the name of the safety and security of the American people. I don’t want to talk about the power of America and its response to threat. Rather, I want to talk about the American people and race.
With the murder of Trayvon Martin, there has been a great cry from many Americans demanding justice for Trayvon. Still, over one month since his death, his killer George Zimmerman has not been arrested. Now details have come out that Zimmerman’s father is a judge. His father had the power to get this whole incident swept under the rug as self-defense and almost got it done until the American public made Trayvon their son.
Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense could be well founded. Afterall, if he feared his safety, wouldn’t he have to defend himself?
Truthfully, the only threat Trayvon posed was that he was black at night. His threat was being black – either black at night or black while driving or black while shopping or black while walking can incite fear within many. I think that fear of blackness exists within all of us.
Think for a moment. When you see a person of color driving around a mostly Caucasian neighborhood, do you wonder what he is doing there? When you drive through a neighborhood known to be predominantly populated with persons of color, do you lock the doors? When you see a person of color walking down the street, do you hold your purse a little tighter? When you see a person of color shopping, do you wonder if she is going to steal something?
I’m sure George Zimmerman had that same type of fear. Only, his fear escalated into the murder of a young boy. We may never know if Trayvon did anything to provoke Zimmerman, but we can’t presume that he did anything. Can we honestly assume that a young boy armed with iced tea and skittles posed any real physical threat to an armed adult man?
Now, news has broken about Kendrec McDade’s killing. He was a black teenager killed in Pasadena by 2 cops who were lead to believe by a 911 caller that the boy had a gun. The details of his death are all too similar to Trayvon’s story.
These recent events have made it necessary for Americans to have a conversation about race. I look forward to hearing more of the race relations conversations going on. I would be open to us having a formal conversation here. I wanted to begin to address this important topic now before the American conversation gets ahead of us.
It is important for us, in this room, to recognize that there is still fear of black. I want to propose that that fear is rooted in power, white power. The truth is, we live in a society where we as white people have certain privileges whether we know it or want it; our white skin is preferred over black.
A few weeks ago, I attended a clergy education training with the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin about racism and the church. The Christian Church nationally and regionally have ministry teams dedicated to helping congregations become anti-racist churches. I attended a similar training a few years ago. This initiative is so important to the Christian Church that I am required to go to anti-racism training every few years.
One of the handouts I received was a list of privileges Caucasians enjoy. Here are a few of those privileges:
1) I can easily arrange to be in the company of other white people.
2) I can go shopping alone without someone following me around the store.
3) I have never been told that my success is due to racial quotas.
4) I can turn on the television or to the front page of the newspaper and see people of my race widely represented.
5) When I use a credit card or write a check, I can be sure that no one will question my financial stability based on my skin color.
6) If I move, I can rent an apartment or purchase a home in an area which I can afford and in a neighborhood I want to live.
7) When our kids learn about the history of the United States and what made it a great nation, I can be sure that people of my color are pictured.
As much as I try to understand what its like to not be privileged, I grew up privileged and remain privileged and will never understand being underprivileged. Privilege is power. As long as Caucasian people maintain this level of preference then the world may seem okay. However, when we perceive a threat to the power of preference, we have the power to kill an innocent man to maintain power and privilege.