Who is the Jesus that you know?

This post originally appeared on our Circle Mobilizing because Black Lives Matter blog by Bethany Stewart.

Anxiety has been an ever present figure in my life. I can always feel it. Sometimes ebbing, sometimes flowing, it is always there.

As a child, I remember how my parents would sit with me, hug me, and play Fred Hammond gospel albums softly in the background to soothe my nerves. My anxiety is almost like that really annoying cousin in childhood. I didn’t necessarily want to play with them but they were family, so I learned to adjust and enjoy their company. I learned to live with the anxiety.

In the last few years, I’ve found my compassion in community organizing work and criminal justice reform. I organize in Black-centered spaces and in our church. I spend most of my time organizing for a grassroots coalition that advocates for the end of the cash bail system while also providing those that are currently incarcerated with the funds for their freedom.

In all that organizing work, social action, and caring for people, I find myself resorting to something else that I do well: worrying about people constantly.

I’m writing this right now, at 1am, worried and anxious about a woman who gave birth in prison. She was only given two days to spend with her newborn before that child was placed in the system. Now out of prison, she is fighting to maintain her parental rights to her newborn and her other children.

I’m worried. I’m scared.

Most of all, I feel trapped.

I feel trapped in a system, a city, and a country that cares very little (if at all) for the wellness of its poor Black and Brown communities. Last year in this country, I watched news reports of brown children being caged at the borders. I heard stories that some of those children lost their lives.

I’ve met children in my city who were incarcerated so long that they missed their high school graduation and subsequently aged into adult prison facilities.

I feel as though I am being strangled by injustices daily.

Every time I try to catch my breath, I am suffocated by another injustice involving cash bail. Every time I try to catch my breath I am again choked by another injustice involving police brutality. Every time I try to catch my breath I am again stifled by another injustice involving forced plea deals from scared yet innocent people.  I. Can’t. Breathe.

I find myself gasping for the sweet air of freedom and thirsting for even a sip of justice only to have the cup of justice ripped away from my grasp again and again.

I am constantly faced with the realization that I cannot possibly do enough to save people. In that realization, I recognize that I need saving.

I need to be saved and not in a one-time charismatic altar call kind of way. You know what I’m talking about? The preacher asks you to raise your hand, come to the front, and advises that nobody is looking. But all of us ornery church kids know that we looked at them every time, we didn’t want to miss such a magical moment in church. I’m not looking for a magical moment, but I am in need of being saved daily.

I need to be saved by a Jesus who himself was a victim of state-sanctioned violence. I need to be saved by a Jesus whose earliest followers lost their lives to state sanctioned violence as well.

I need to be saved by a Jesus that inspired the writings of a man that spent most of his time incarcerated. And those very writings later contributed to the vast majority of the New Testament. Those precious ancient prison writings hold the very beliefs and teachings that Christians hold dear to us thousands of years later.

I need that Jesus.

I need to be saved by that Jesus, not this construction of a tough-on-crime conservative Jesus who I barely recognize when touted by White evangelicals, masking their racism in the gospel. I need the Jesus that sees me and knows me deeply.

It is the Jesus that I know and recognize that took those who have been imprisoned seriously. He was passionate about loving those suffering from incarceration. In Matthew 25: 41-45 he said, “I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, sick and in prison, and you never visited.” His audience said, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?” He answered, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

In all of my worrying and anxiety about the people I so desperately want to save, I am reminded of my humanity. I am in fact comforted by my humanity. I am not a savior, I cannot save myself or anyone else. Nor does anyone need me to save them. I do not have the answers or solutions to this life and I don’t think that anyone is asking me to find them. What I am certain of is that the Jesus I know fully and wholly understands the injustice of imprisonment. He urges us to care for those in prison. He urges us not to forget them. He urges us to be present in their suffering. The Jesus that I know identifies with state-sanctioned violence, imprisonment, and ostracization. We, as Christians, must continue to align ourselves with that Jesus. We must continue to seek that Jesus, not simply a concept of him that contradicts the gospels.

So I ask you, who is the Jesus that you know?

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