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Indigenous Jesus, Reading Luke with Settlers

Painting by ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ

Painting by ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ

Dan Oudshoorn (Blog Link) has recently begun a project entitled A Blog Commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Written for Settlers in the Occupied Territories Called Canada, in which he reflects on the gospel text alongside the history and lived experience of indigenous persons to understand more about who Jesus is and challenge the assumptions of “settlers” like himself (and me).

At the time of writing this post, he had posted the first two entries, and Introduction and a selection regarding Luke 1:1-4. (Part 1 | Part 2)

Oudshoorn’s treatment in his introduction provides parallels between the historical context of Jesus of Nazareth and the Lukan community with the indigenous people of North America, specifically Canada. Similar to James Cone’s assertion that Jesus is Black (more on this here), the research and presentation provide the means for recovering from the blinders of assuming Jesus belongs to a privileged class (white, male, Western).

In striking fashion, Oudshoorn describes the similarities, writing,

It is also what it means to say that Jesus was an Indian, i.e. a Judaean.  Shortly before Jesus was born, the Roman soldiers had passed yet again through the region engaging in a scorched earth, shock and awe campaign to pacify the region and to punish the people for their refusal to be extinct commodities.  Children were taken from parents (like the RCMP and the Indian agent took children away from Indigenous parents and jailed or shot any who resisted) and sold into slavery (sent to residential schools or white families) in faraway lands.  The land that had been a part of the people was taken from them, crops were destroyed, people were forced to become transient labourers, maintaining a cheap labour pool for absentee mega-farmers or for city folks.  The roads were lined with the crucified bodies of able-bodied men – the very bodies that many large family units depended on to earn the money to buy their daily bread.  Sacred places were defiled, taxes were imposed, and temples were built to foreign gods.  Many were killed.  Many women were raped.  And Mary became pregnant with Jesus.

The significance of Jesus identifying with the Indians lays the foundation for the remainder of Luke-Acts for what it means for the community of his disciples.

But the story about this Indian whose name Jesus (Yeshua) means salvation, deliverance and rescue – this Indian from a colonized land, from an uprooted people, from a scorched earth, from a single teen mom – is presented as “good news.”  This, after all, is what the word “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον or “euangelion”) means.  From this word we get the title, “evangelist” i.e. one who brings good news” or “one who spreads the gospel” but what we will discover is that the “good news” spreads not so much like light into darkness or leaven in a loaf, but like a virus in a computer system, or like fire in the master’s house, or like revolution in the hills of Saint Domingue in 1791.  Because, and here I’ll say only gesture at what is to come later, this good news is only good news to some people.  It is very bad news to others.

The second post enters into a conversation about what it means to be a “friend of God”- the Theophilus whom the gospel is addressed to. This section is a challenging polemic about whether to consider ourselves friends or enemies of God. For someone who is attempting to support and encourage recognition of historically oppressed perspectives, this section was personally challenging as it lays raw the need to reflect truthfully about the realities of oppression and one’s own power and privilege:

We have treated Jesus as if he were a European settler (Roman), God as if God were white (and male), and us as if we are God’s friends.  If we’re going to get this right, we have to try and hear these stories again.

Please follow the link to Dan’s blog (Part 1 | Part 2) and subscribe. I am looking forward to continuing to read his Commentary as a fellow Settler in Occupied Territory.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology and an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA.


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