A couple of weeks ago some yahoo was threatening to destroy all the white Jesus paintings and statues because they fit the white supremacy narrative. My first reaction was the same as most over-exaggerations of our racial division in this country; how silly. But after further thought and listening, I came to see that his perception is not irrational. A black person might indeed have bad feelings toward the near unanimity of a European looking Jesus on the walls of homes and churches where African Americans were inhumanely treated up until the 60’s. Quite honestly, I would hate to let a white Jesus stop a person from believing in the real Jesus.
So what color Jesus should we have up there, above the altar or kneeling in prayer in Grandma’s living room? We can guess pretty well as to skin color, hair style, and facial features. We don’t believe in a vague idea but a real God in real skin born at a real time and place. He was a son of Abraham, son of David. He was born in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth in the 1st century AD. Our God really did walk on water, healed the lepers, hung out with tax collectors, and stained a real piece of wood with His real blood for sinners. As John tells us in his first letter, we saw, touched, heard, tasted, etc. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. More than that, this real dead guy rose from the dead on the third day and people hung out and ate with Him! Therefore, His promises have teeth. We can believe Him if says we are forgiven, and we will rise from the dead too. He did it!
It is crucial to understand that we can depict, to a certain degree, Jesus’ features and even the color of his skin. More than that His relationship to Abraham and David are essential to His connection to God’s promises in Genesis and the rest of history. He is a real human being, meaning He was one of two sexes, in this case male. (On purpose since He is the second Adam.)
So, tear down all your pictures and statues and replace them with a 1st century Jewish guy in his early 30’s. In fact, you will be blessed by seeing Jesus as He really looked because it might actually open your eyes to seeing yourself saved by a foreigner. While you might share some Western cultural upbringing with Him (the Greeks influence was huge upon the Jews before Jesus), you probably don’t have much in common culturally. Europeans were an ethnic ministry!
Ok, don’t replace your icons quite yet. Maybe it’s dangerous to actually make Jesus only look like a 1st century Jew. Maybe by making him look different than you, you might forget that He came not only for Israel to be reduced to one, but for all of humanity. The incarnation was not just for the Jews but all race and ethnicity (red, yellow, black, and white). Maybe, just maybe, different cultures paint different colored Jesuses because they see Jesus as taking on their own flesh and dying for their sins! Just like Barabbas may have seen himself up on that cross as he looked back at Jesus briefly after Pilate let him go. Or Pilate himself might have envisioned himself standing in Jesus’ place naked and beaten when he declared, “behold the Man,” instead of, “behold the Hebrew.”
So don’t tear down your Jesus whether he looks like you or not. Or do, if it helps your focus on the Gospel – Jesus for YOU. I don’t care. But one thing is for sure; if someone seems to have a problem with your Jesus’ skin color, don’t be a jerk about it. Listen. Maybe you can help remove barriers to the real Jesus and the real forgiveness, hope and life found in Him! That is why we exist. Not to defend paintings and buildings or even Jesus. But to share the good news with our neighbor, our friends, our strangers, even our enemies.