What Does Jesus Think About Race and Ethnicity?

by Patrick McMillan

We live in a racially-divided world. I live on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, arguably the most racially divided city in the United States. I heard a story from a co-worker one day that the two ethnic groups that settled in Milwaukee area hated each other so much that they refused to line up their sides of city bridges. To this day you can supposedly walk out and see the misalignment of these bridges. In the race for the Democratic Party’s nominee we have heard ethnicity used as the main reason for disparity and hatred in America. All this talk has lead to people becoming emotionally charged about this topic.

I have heard Christians say that all men are created equally, endowed with the image of God. This comes from Genesis 1:26-27. But I rarely hear people use examples from Jesus’s teaching regarding race. Recently I came across some teaching that has really touched my heart on this issue. The text I was studying was Mark 7:1-30. In this text we learn about what makes us equal as humans and the boundaries of Jesus’ acceptance.

What Makes Humans Equal?

While we as humans are all image-bearers of God, there is something else that makes us all equal in the eyes of Jesus. In Mark 7:1-23 Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders who have accused his disciples of breaking the law. The religious leaders have divided people as ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ based on the law of Moses. The law signified the Jewish nation. In their eyes the Jews were ‘clean’ and the Gentiles (non-Jews) were ‘unclean’. But Jesus turns this thinking on its head. In Mark 7:14-23 Jesus teaches that the food laws do not determine who is clean and unclean. Jesus teaches that it is a person’s heart. It is not about being apart of any nationality, it is about Jesus having your heart. Because of this, we see that all of mankind has a heart problem. This makes us all equal. We have all equally fallen short of God’s standard. Jesus wanted the Jews to know that both Jews and Gentiles had a heart problem; a problem that persists today. No matter your race; white, black, or Asian, you have a heart problem.

What Are The Boundaries of Jesus’s Acceptance?

During the time of Jesus, the Jews were closed off to outside nations and people coming into the grace of God. They were also in tension with many other ethnic groups, such as the Romans, who ruled over them. To these people, the grace of God was for them and them alone. They thought that the Messiah was going to be a warrior who would overthrow the Roman government and restore the Jewish nation to its former glory. But that was not Jesus’s plan. As we see in Mark 7:24-30, a Gentile woman approaches Jesus asking for him to drive a demon out of her daughter. Jesus’s reply is shocking to us. In verse 27, Jesus tells her that dogs are not allowed to have the food allotted to the children. The children he was referring to in this verse were the children of Israel. After all, the Messiah was the birthright of the Jews. Jesus had every right to turn the woman away. But the reply from this woman in the story shows us just who can enter into Jesus’s grace. The woman replies with a simple yet powerful word, “Lord”. According to my NIV Study Bible, this is the first and only time that Jesus is called Lord in the book of Mark. This was the gospel message that the apostles brought to the people in the book of Acts. “Jesus is Lord” was the simple statement of faith for the early Church. This woman in the story is accepting Jesus for who he is, the Lord and Savior of the World. Jesus then replies by driving the demon out of the daughter. This shows us that Jesus does not care about your nationality. His grace and acceptance is open to those who call on him as Lord. This transcends any sort of racial or ethnic divide.

Simply put, Jesus showed us that race could not separate us from his love and grace. Regardless of your nationality, you have a heart problem, but there is a savior who is willing to accept you if you call on him as Lord. This gospel is the only message that can heal the racial tension we see in the world today. If you are interested in following up on this topic, I would recommend the film Woodlawn. It is a great story based on the true transformation that the gospel had on a high school football team during the integration of Alabama schools. It is a testament to how the gospel can heal the wounds of racism. I pray that the Church can be a beacon of light in the US as we navigate the racial division. I encourage you to pray this prayer as well.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.

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