Eight years ago Black Lives Matter burst onto the national scene as a line on a Facebook post turned into a hashtag. It became the rallying cry of a decentralized movement fighting against systemic police violence towards Black people. Some, taking offense at the highlighting of a particular group’s human value, fired back with, “all lives matter.” Others pointed to the example of violence against police and responded with, Blue Lives Matter. So which lives matter?
Last week, as the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, President Biden made it clear that for him, soldier’s lives matter. He even went so far as to say that he takes “zero responsibility” for what happens next in the decimated country that is back in the hands of the Taliban twenty years after the United States first invaded. So which lives matter?
To Matter Is To Belong
At one level, the “all lives” people are right. After all, as the first cosmological myth of Genesis teaches us, nothing is evil and everything belongs. So if everything belongs, then all lives matter.
… if we stop there we ignore the other way that nothing is evil. That is, when someone attacks our belonging, we find ourselves cast into the void of nothingness. In that void, that nothing, we experience evil. Moreover, when we participate in behaviors or systems that cast people into the nothing, when we cause or allow others to experience evil, we do evil.
So if we truly want to heal, if we are interested in becoming human, if we hear the divine call to bring the Kingdom of God to earth, then we have to ask which lives currently matter and how do we create a society where all lives really do matter.
Here I believe some stories about Jesus gathered in the Gospel According to Mark are helpful.
Which Lives Matter To Jesus
In Mark 5, Jairus, a Jewish religious leader, comes to Jesus and pleads for his daughter’s healing. Jesus agrees. While they make their way to the girl, a woman who had bled for twelve years decides to touch Jesus’ clothes, believing it will heal her. She aimed to accomplish this discreetly, but Jesus felt power leave him as she experienced healing. He halted and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” Trembling, the woman came forward.
Standing in the middle of a large crowd we have two people with Jesus between them. The crowd looks at the two and views them through the community’s socio-cultural values. On one hand, Jairus. As a leader of the synagogue, he is a leader of the whole community. He is highly respected and a righteous man. If anyone deserves time and attention from Jesus, it is Jarius. Without question, Jesus should prioritize saving Jarius’ daughter.
Then there is the woman. Twelve years of bleeding makes her ceremonially unclean. She cannot be touched, so she cannot have children, giving her little value in society. To heighten her worthlessness, everyone else in the community must remain vigilant around her so they can maintain their cleanliness. Everyone would be better served if Jesus told her to leave and go live among the lepers.
Yet Jesus tells Jairus to wait. Mark offers little detail about what happens. Mark does not indicate whether Jesus touched her or simply spoke with words that carried a tender touch, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.” As this happens, Jairus receives news his daughter has died. Still, Jesus also extends grace to him, going to the little girl and speaking life into her.
Jesus and Systemic Evil
This incident serves as a microcosm of Jesus’ attitude toward societal structures, specifically concerning those who lived on the social fringe because of their gender, ethnicity, profession, or religious standing.
The practice of spending time with outcasts begins early in Mark as the Pharisees find themselves questioning why Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2). Jesus’ response is simple as he points to the sick needing a doctor.
By reaching out to the rejected, Jesus redefines social values. Nowhere is this more potently demonstrated than in his encounter with a Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7). Jesus is sitting inside a home. Mark makes it clear Jesus wanted solitude, but the crowds have made it impossible. Even as he tries to get away, a Greek woman comes in and falls at his feet, begging that he exorcise a demon from her daughter.
Socially, there is nothing right about this situation. The woman is dishonorable because of her gender, her ethnicity, and her behavior. But even as Jesus seeks to dismiss her by highlighting his calling to Israel, she remains steadfast, and deeply aware that ultimately, Jesus believes everything belongs.
In a great reversal, the master of language allows her to shame him and he frees her daughter of the tormentor. The only conclusion left is that the coming of the Kingdom of God destroys the social structures of this age that oppress the vulnerable and the marginalized.
Which Lives Matter?
All lives should matter. But just like in Jesus’ day the systems and structures of our society marginalize certain lives. Until we recognize this, until we identify the broken systems, we cannot dismantle them. And until we dismantle them, we will continue to do evil. But once we see them, we can challenge them and invite everyone on the journey of becoming human.
Dissertation: Re-Storying God: Re-Imagining the God of the Bible and Re-Enchanting Our Neo-Secular Selves by Joe Burnham
The body of this post comes directly from the chapter in my dissertation on the Gospel According to Mark. You can read the rest here.
Perhaps the most challenging line in this video comes towards then end when Robin DiAngelo, a white anti-racism educator, says, “I am comfortable in a racist society.” The truth is, any talk of systemic injustice and living in a society where some people don’t seem to matter, is bound to make those of us who do matter feel uncomfortable. That discomfort is ok. It is actually good, as long as we do not allow it to fuel shame.
Book: Binding the Strong Man (affiliate) by Ched Myers
This is my favorite commentary on the Gospel According to Mark. In it, Ched Myers reveals Jesus the social revolutionary who turns the world as we know it upside down.
Let’s collaborate! Share a story of a time you discovered that, according to our society, someone’s life did not matter. Share in a comment, reply, or over on Discord.
We’ll see what happens with my collaboration request, but I have a story about my becoming aware of Black lives.