In today’s first reading, the people are suffering from an affliction by serpents (which they seemed to have brought on themselves) and they look to Moses for a cure. Following the directions God gives, Moses makes a bronze serpent and mounts it on a pole and “whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” God hears the cries of the people, providing them with a visual source of their salvation.
We wish that the suffering we endure in the form of racial injustice and systemic racism were as easily cured. Is there any possibility that the second reading – where Jesus forecasts his fate — suggests that we have a visual source to bring us closer to healing?
In Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans, the great theologian reflected on the role that Christ on the cross might play as a visual cue reflecting back to us “the crimson thread which runs through all history.” At the foot of the cross, gazing upon the disfigured, tortured and crucified body of Christ, humanity stands indicted; responsible for all the ways in which we crucify, torture and disfigure others.
As we near the Good Friday remembrance of the torture, crucifixion and death of Jesus, we might look to the visual cue mounted on a pole and be reminded of the many ways we have contributed to the crimson thread which runs through all history, the ways we have been the torturers, the ways we have crucified our racialized Others. Could the recognition of our culpability, as we look at the Crucified One, be the first step toward new life?
1. When I look at the Crucified One, can I see the Crucified People who have been disfigured, tortured and put to death by racial injustice?
2. When I look at the Crucified One, can I take responsibility for all the ways I participate in structural and interpersonal injustice that contributes to the crimson thread which runs through all history, and continues to torture and crucify today?
3. When I look at the Crucified One taking responsibility, might I live?
Jeannine Hill Fletcher is Professor of Theology at Fordham University, Bronx, NY. Her upcoming book The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism and Religious Diversity will be published by Orbis (fall 2017).