In studying the life of Jesus in the Gospels recently, something has continuously struck me as odd. Early in His ministry when Jesus is healing the sick and giving sight to the blind, there are multiple instances where He requests the individual He has just cured not to tell anyone, to keep this miracle quiet. I think it is very fair to reason that Jesus was probably overwhelmed with the number of people coming to Him for healing, as there are other instances in the Gospels Jesus retreats to pray alone or find solitude, so asking these people not to broadcast their miracles to everyone they know seems to be along those lines. One could also reason Jesus did not wish to spark the envy that was already in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees. However, I am not sure that either option would speak to His purpose in the redemption of humanity or making the Father known. Jesus had many conversations with the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests, and their hardness of heart grieved Him.
“Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’ And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was…” Mark 3:11-12
So why keep these amazing miracles on the down low? To me, the answer was revealed at the very end of the story, at the crucifixion, with the help of specific passages leading up to it. The first passage is when Jesus asks His disciples who people say that He is (Mark 8). They respond “one of the prophets” or Elijah. Jesus then asks Peter who he thinks Jesus is. Peter answers the Christ. Jesus tells Peter the Father has revealed this to him, not his flesh. Peter positions himself in a way for God to reveal this to him by following and knowing Jesus.
“And He warned them to tell no one about Him.” Mark 8:30
Why? Why would Jesus tell His disciples not to share who He is? The idea here is of identity, and it is of the utmost importance for the people to know. Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?
When my brother and I were younger, if we were working on homework or reading a book or doing anything really where we came across a word we did not know, as most kids would do, we asked our parents. I do not have a very vivid memory from my childhood, but for whatever reason, I do remember their response every single time we asked…
“Look it up.”
“Ughhh why can’t you just tell me?”
“You can get the dictionary and look it up.”
Though we knew they would tell us this, we continued to ask of course, holding onto the hope that maybe this one time they would just tell us. Didn’t happen, but that’s not the point. The point is the difference in knowing. My mom or dad could have told us the meaning of the word, and we may or may not have remembered it past the moment we needed the meaning for. Getting the dictionary and taking the time to look it up. however, requires pursuit and intimacy. By not giving my brother and I the answer, my parents presented us with a choice. Was the meaning of the word important enough to me to take my time and energy to seek out? Or was it not? Did I value knowing the meaning?
The second passage is a bit more subtle. This is right before the Passover when Jesus and the disciples are at the home of Simon the leper. A woman comes and pours a very expensive “perfume of pure nard” over Jesus. The disciples rebuke her for “wasting” all this costly perfume when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus responds that the woman is right in her actions, saying that the poor will always be with them, but He will not be. Jesus goes on to say her story will be told wherever in the world the Gospel is preached (Mark 14). Here, too, is the idea of identity. The woman understands who Jesus is. Giving to the poor is a righteous deed, but here was something greater, the opportunity to anoint the physical body of the Anointed One.
In the book Interior Freedom, one I have referenced before and highly recommend, the author, Jacques Phillipe, discusses the idea of the true and false self. The true self is founded on who God says we are, poor and afflicted creatures called to be adopted children into the royal family. The false self is built on pride and ego. It is the self we manufacture for ourselves through envy, self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. This is the self we attach both good and bad deeds to. When we give to the poor or take care of the sick, these spiritually rich deeds pass through our human minds rightly as good and noble but wrongly as part of our true selves. When we tap into our true selves, who God says we are, good flows through us but does not originate in us. In the same way, when we make a mistake or fall below our own or others’ expectations, we harshly condemn our false selves as not good enough or failures, imprisoning our selves to very human deficiencies.
Back to the Gospels, the scribes and Pharisees are constantly asking Jesus for signs. A sign from heaven, and they will then believe. This grieves Jesus, causing Him to “sigh deeply” and ask, “why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation” (Mark 811-12). They get stuck on the art and miss the Artist. They want the gifts but don’t see the Giver. The literal sign from heaven is in the flesh speaking to them, and they miss Him.
When Jesus is betrayed by Judas and brought in front of the Council, the testimonies against Him are not consistent. No one can provide any sort of evidence to condemn Jesus based on what He has done. There was nothing criminal to bring forth.
“The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?’ But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”
This is the “blasphemy” deemed deserving of death. Who Jesus is, not what He has or has not done. The dagger is His identity. Instead of getting to know who Jesus was, the people, even at times the disciples, got caught up on the miracles and righteous deeds He was doing. They tried to explain these things to themselves and work out how they could be. Why could they not, too, achieve such wonders? Enter envy and thus, hardness of heart. We as humans attach the great spiritually righteous deeds of Jesus to His identity, mistaking them for who He is, I AM. Today we are not exempt from this devastating misconception of who Jesus is. How often do we find ourselves asking to see what the Lord of Lords can do for us rather than solely seeking to see Him, to know Him. We rightly can understand Him through how He moves in our lives, but we cannot mistake the gifts for the Giver. The danger of this rears its ugly head in the treatment Jesus receives while hanging on the cross.
“Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!’” Mark 15:27-31
To our human minds, it lines up that Jesus would save Himself in this situation if He could; based on all the healings and miracles He has previously done, it is quite obvious He has the ability, especially if He is who He says He is. Prove to us You are the Son of God, Jesus. But we do not truly know who He is or were not paying attention if we believe this like the Israelites did. We missed the whole meaning and purpose of the Christ. He tried to explain, telling his disciples that he would die and rise in three days. Peter himself, one of THE boys, even rebukes Him and says this will never happen. None of us are exempt from putting the interests of men before the interests of the Lord. The Genie tells Aladdin that no one will know who he really is because people see what they are told to see. We feed on self-interests more than the love and mercy of our Father. Thus, we see mere men robed in difference rather than who we truly are, image-bearers of the King.
25God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that crawls upon the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.” 27So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.… Genesis 1:25-27 (biblehub.com)
I want to draw on three experiences to explain how my understanding of being an image-bearer of God and made in the likeness of God has been drastically deconstructed and reconstructed the past couple months. First, however, let us take a ride real quick back to middle school English class. There is a significant difference between two common prefixes that I am sure was pounded into our brains by our persistent teachers, yet somehow may not have stayed learned. Such is the nature of school sometimes. All is not lost, however, just lock in on this now. The prefix inter- means between two groups and the prefix intra- means within or inside one group. Soak in this for a moment.
Man being made in the likeness of God means there is one group of us. God does not distinguish among men like He distinguishes the beasts from the livestock and the livestock from the creatures that crawl. Those things are all different “kinds.” Our kind, that of men, is one, specifically of the One. However, this also does not mean we are all cookie cutter replicas of each other. “Male and female He created them…” Thus, there are variations within this group of image-bearers of God and that not just of male and female.
I have mentioned this part of my story before, but it is important to restate it here. I grew up in a white suburb of Chicago. My neighborhood was white, my schools were predominantly white, and my church was white. It is fair to say there was a sprinkle of people of color in my life but only just. This creates fractures and missing pieces in every area of life, but the one that touches all else is who I saw as image-bearers of God. Outside of a few exceptions in my early life, this was only white people. Not until high school did I get to know a non-Anglo person intimately who bore the likeness of God, who I recognized the image of God in. He was a boy I dated who was Asian. My family went to church every Sunday, but unless my memory has failed greatly, he was the first to describe his faith to me as a relationship with God. I am eternally grateful for the seed he planted. God would continue to nurture this seed in college and bring more image-bearers of Himself into my life that didn’t look like me. And this was just the beginning.
Through the love and prodding of a dear friend and mentor, I recently attended a service at United Church Chicago, a black Baptist church. I will be completely transparent and say I was nervous to go. My whole life has been colored by white privilege. The same friend/mentor who suggested I attend United defines white privilege as not having to think twice about my skin color. Any place I have been, I was in the majority. I never thought twice about being white. When I walked through the church doors that Sunday morning, I thought twice about my skin color. I was uncomfortable in my skin. This is the reality for my black brothers and sisters. This is their table daily. Time to pull up a chair.
In my brief discomfort, the Lord revealed Himself all around me through the people of United. People that didn’t look like me but bore the likeness of Him. We were of the same kind. Right when my two friends and I entered the church building, we were greeted and hugged. The love and passion for Jesus was unmistakable. It was pouring over in the songs sung by the choir, in the sermon by pastor Andre Kirkland, in the congregation animatedly taking part in the worship of God. I felt my difference from them, but I also felt shared with them, part of the same rhythm. There was something greater knitting us within that the colors of our skin could not come close to disrupting. “His own image.”
What struck me the most about my experience at United was a great sense of wholeness that filled my soul after attending the service. Something previously unnamed I had been starving for was fed. By pulling up a chair to the table of my black brothers and sisters, I could see more clearly the Kingdom. I tasted another shade of His likeness.
I quite enjoy attending services of the many Christian denominations, but I call the Catholic church home. Drenching myself in the sacraments and taking part in the Eucharist on the regular through daily mass has become irresistible. A faith I once thought was only about tradition and ritual has become alive through a deep devotion to the Lord Jesus, celebrating His life and remembering His death through the reading of Scripture, the reflection of the priest, and most importantly, the giving of the body and blood of Jesus Himself. However, as the Lord has removed scales from my eyes, I couldn’t help but notice I was only surrounded by people who looked like me at mass. I felt torn. How could I reconcile the seeming whiteness of the Catholic church with the fullness of the image of God I have come to know through my brothers and sisters of color? I am a bit sorry to admit that in a very generational move, I Googled it.
“Black Catholic churches in Chicago.” The beloved search engine did not let me down. I began scanning through the results, hoping to find something real and whole. Not whitewashed. This is when I found St. Thomas the Apostle in Hyde Park, Chicago. Looking through the pictures on the website left me hopeful this place could be what I was looking for. I attended mass on a Saturday afternoon. The church building itself was stunning. Worn and gothic. It automatically appealed to my old soul, but the aesthetics were not why I was there. I wanted to see my God in His multitude of image-bearers. I wanted to taste Him in all His shades and hear Him in all His voices. And it was so.
Black people. Asian people. Hispanic people. White people. Young and old. Married and single. White men with black women and black men with white women. It was one of the most beautiful things I have been a part of. I am not sure I can describe what was welling up inside of me throughout the whole service other than God Himself. Father Chris spoke on the importance of the family and unity among people. How the family is the image-bearer of the church and the image-bearer of the nation. We celebrated the Eucharist, and he ended the mass by thanking the congregation for their support of the parish and thanking any visitors who had come. “I love you guys.” My heart was overflowing.
The service at St. Thomas the Apostle was an amazing example of an intra-racial gathering. Let us now remember that the prefix “intra” means within or inside one group. All of us were of the same kind, all in the likeness of the One. Bearing One image. Within One group, though we looked differently.
The last of the three experiences is a sermon I watched by Dr. John Piper called “Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage.” First, it must be noted that Dr. Piper is brilliant and a truly gifted speaker. Please, please, please check out some of his stuff. There is so much packed into this sermon, but the idea I want to lock in on is simply how the marriage of two people with different skin colors is celebrated if both are a part of the new Israel, meaning they believe in Jesus as the Christ and Lord. Dr. Piper mentions how Moses married a woman of dark skin, an Ethiopian woman. His sister Miriam is uncertain about this, and God rebukes her. Rather than interracial referring to the relationship between two people of different ethnicities, it more aptly refers to a relationship between one who is a follower of Jesus and one who is not. Abraham’s descendants are those accepting the call to be a part of the Kingdom. Dr. Piper suggests that the relationship God does not favor is between one who has accepted and committed to be a part of the Kingdom and one who has not. “Inter” means between two groups. What two groups though? As men, aren’t we all creatures of God? Of the same kind? Yes, we are. However, there are those of us who have chosen this true identity, this true self, and those who have not. This is what Phillipe is getting at through his exploration of interior freedom. Knowing our true self as a creature of God, poor and afflicted, and invited to be His child, allows us immense freedom in detachment of our worth and value from our deeds. Our actions are the fruit of what is in our heart, but they do not define us unless we allow them to. Allowing them to feeds the false self. This cripples us, regardless of whether our actions were noble or well-intended. Mistaken identity is not some light matter; the cost is the crucifixion.
The crucifixion reveals to us the destruction mistaken identity inflicts. It reveals to us the danger of interracial hearts, letting actions define identity rather than identity defining actions. Interracial thinking lands us wagging our heads at Jesus and wondering why after healing so many, He will not save Himself. We miss His true self. Jesus has an intra-racial heart. He knows His true self, and though His desires acted against it while He prayed THREE times to the Father to let His cup pass, He still chose the truth of who He was, the Lamb of God.
Thus, my intra-racial heart looks like this. I am of mankind, created in the likeness of God. I am fallen, afflicted, and needy. I am His daughter. I am a white woman unfolding the image of my Father just as my brothers and sisters of color. Though I certainly do not always abide in it, I know my true self and choose to let it be who I am more and more. Like Peter, I am not exempt from rejecting who I know I am in fear of what others may think. I struggle with reconciling parts of myself I had previously thought unrelated, even conflicting. White female attracted to black males. Woman and athlete. Thinker and feeler. Able and dependent. Coach and mother. Single and desirable. White and black. White and brown. White and tan. I find all colors within me, blended and beautiful. Knowing my intra-racial heart reminds me of the fullness of my God, and I am able to see people not as merely men but as kingly image-bearers.