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Jesus Is Woke. And That’s Good News.

Jesus Is Woke. And That’s Good News.

There’s a lot of controversy over the term “woke” in Christianity. Some more conservative Christians reject the term, even calling it anti-Christian.

But being “woke” is not anti-Christian. Rather, being woke is essential to the Christian faith.

What Is Woke?

Dr. Elaine Richardson, who specializes in teaching African American literature at The Ohio State University, states that the term woke, “comes out of the experience of Black people of knowing that you have to be conscious of the politics of race, class, gender, systemic racism, ways that society is stratified and not equal.”

To be “woke” is to be awake to systemic injustices and to do the work of justice that leads to greater equality.

So, was Jesus woke? Yes. In fact, much of the Bible is woke.

The Bible’s Wokeness

The main story of the Old Testament is the Exodus. In that story, the Hebrews are a marginalized group that suffers oppression in Egypt. The Egyptian economy depends upon the enslavement of the Hebrews. The Egyptian political and religious systems uphold the economic system. Egypt’s Pharaoh holds political, religious, and economic power, and he used that power to oppress the Hebrew people.

Near the beginning of the story, the Hebrew people cry out. Interestingly, they don’t cry out to God; they just cry out.

God heard their cry and then acted to liberate the Hebrews from oppression. The cry of the Hebrew people acts as an alarm clock for God. It’s as if God had fallen asleep to the oppression of the Hebrews and needed something to wake God up.

The cry of the Hebrews ascends to God. God hears their cry, wakes up, and then works to liberate them by sending Moses to confront Pharaoh and demand Pharaoh changes his oppressive policies.

In the story of the Exodus, God is woke to systemic oppression.

The Biblical prophets are woke, too. Their main function is to be like Moses and confront the religious and political leaders of their day who use their power to gain at the expense of the poor.

Isaiah is one example of prophetic wokeness. In chapter 10, Isaiah writes against the political leaders,

 

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
2 to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
and that you may make the orphans your prey!
3 What will you do on the day of punishment,
in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
and where will you leave your wealth,
4 so as not to crouch among the prisoners
or fall among the slain?
For all this, his anger has not turned away;
his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah and the rest of the prophets are woke to systemic oppression.

Jesus Is Woke – The Final Judgment

Since God is woke, and the prophets are woke, it should come as no surprise that Jesus is woke.

Maybe the most important passage for understanding the wokeness of Jesus is Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage, Jesus harshly criticized national systems that refused to care for the weak and vulnerable.

Many call this the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible has a much better title for this parable: The Judgment of the Nations.

The term “nations” does not primarily refer to individuals. It refers to national systems. It is the nations and these systems that will be judged for how they treated those Jesus called, “the least of these.”

There is one translation issue that plagues this passage. Verse 32 states, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…”

The problem with this translation is the phrase “he will separate people.” The word “people” gives the implication that this judgment is for individuals. If that’s the case, then this isn’t about how nations behave; it’s about how individuals behave.

But the word “people” is a mistranslation from the original Greek, which merely uses the pronoun “them.” So an accurate translation is, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…”

Jesus teaches that the final judgment will depend upon how nations treated the most vulnerable in their midst. Did national systems care for the poor, the thirsty, the naked, and the stranger? If so, then those nations will enter God’s glory. If not, they will enter the fire.

The Sermon on the Mount

Recently, Russel Moore, the editor-in-chief of the evangelical magazine called “Christianity Today,” asked evangelical pastors how members of their congregation respond to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

The Sermon on the Mount contains Jesus’ most concise and important teachings – teachings like turn the other cheek, love your enemies, and the Beatitudes.

Moore stated that that “Multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching—’turn the other cheek’—[and] to have someone come up after to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?'”

Moore believes that much of Christianity has lost its way. Many Christians, especially Christian nationalists, reject the teachings of Jesus as “liberal talking points.” They know that Jesus is woke, so sadly, they reject him and his teachings.

Jesus Is Woke. And That’s Good News.

The Good News is that Jesus is awake to systemic injustice. In the same way, the prophets before him were awake to systemic injustice. That’s because God is awake to systemic injustice. In a way, the fact that some Christians are rejecting Christ’s “liberal” talking points is good news. It shows that more people are understanding his radical message about love, forgiveness, and justice. Some will reject his teachings as being “woke.” But others will be motivated even more to live into his woke vision where nations function so that everyone has food, water, shelter, and healthcare to flourish.

Because Jesus is woke. And that’s good news.

For a deeper dive, listen to my four part podcast series “Jesus Is Woke”, Part 1 – the Gospel of Matthew, Part 2 – The Gospel of Mark, Part 3 – The Gospel of Luke, Part 4 – The Gospel of John, here on my website or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Adam Ericksen

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