Lent 2B – On a hill [not] far away…*

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

Mark 8:34 “Let them take up their cross…”

Before it became a religious symbol, the cross “was an effective and feared symbol of imperial might.”[1] An ancient form of execution, in Roman usage it was a terrorizing deterrent to criminals or those who would challenge the sovereignty of the state. Crucifixion gruesomely tortured and killed the condemned. It was usually done “… in public places or along busy roads, to ensure large crowds and even to offer a kind of public entertainment.” It was a “public spectacle of humiliation, presenting the victim as something less than human….”[3] “[It was] so inhumane that Cicero, writing in 63 BCE, argued it should be outlawed.[2]

There are so many similarities between Jesus’ crucifixion and the lynching of Black men, women and children in America that theologian James H. Cone, wondered what it was which kept White American Christians from seeing the connection.  “…[I]t is a defect in the conscience of white Christians and [explains] why African Americans have needed to trust and cultivate their own theological imagination.”[4]

Perhaps the Sunday morning church hour is the most segregated time in America not only because our towns and cities are segregated, but because White Christians refuse to know about the genocidal realities of White Supremacy [5] – a willful ignorance which has corrupted White theological understandings of the cross.

“What is invisible to white Christians and their theologians is inescapable to black people. [For black people] the cross is a reminder that the world is fraught with… many lynching trees. We cannot forget the terror of the lynching tree no matter how hard we try. It is buried deep in the living memory and psychology of the black experience in America.”[6]

Once we see the similarities, the challenge and calling for White Christians comes into focus. Christians are not called to worship and adore crosses. We are called to outlaw them and take them down, whether they manifest as lynching trees or lethal injections or police brutality or a criminal justice and prison system.

As a meditation on Mark 8:34, think about reading James Cone’s book The Cross and The Lynching Tree. In it, Dr. Cone reflected on his own life experience and the stories of Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Ida B. Wells and others who contended in some way with White Supremacy’s lynching trees. The book is accessible and heart-breaking and tells a truth White Christians need to know.

[1] Punt, Jeremy. Cross-Purposes in Paul? Violence of the Cross, Galatians, and Human Dignity, Scriptura 102 (2009) at 448.

[2] Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Orbis Books; 20th Anniversary edition 2008) at 383.

[3] Punt, Jeremy. Cross-Purposes at 449.

[4] Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree, (Orbis Books,  Reprint edition 2013), Digital Location 1075.

[5]  The Equal Justice Initiative documented more than 4,400 racial terror lynchings in the U.S. between Reconstruction and World War II.  The NAACP documents 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968.

[6] Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Digital Location 4563.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

✽ First line of the American hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Pr24A No Easy Answers

Exodus 33:12-23
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

My “Me and White Supremacy” group is now starting its last week of readings. Our time with the 28 day workbook is nearly over. We’ve learned a lot. We have new terms and concepts, and a renewed commitment to the work of dismantling White Supremacy. Still, none of us are confident that we know exactly what to do next.

It’s a critical moment. We run the risk of falling into White Apathy. [1] As Layla Saad explains it, White Apathy kicks in because:

  • We realize there are no easy solutions, and we get frustrated.
  • We say we didn’t create White Supremacy so maybe its not our job to dismantle it.
  • We know we don’t know exactly what to do next, so we do nothing. Better to do nothing than to be caught making a mistake.
  • We see that the system of White Supremacy is deeply entrenched, so we doubt anything we do would make a difference.

Saad calls on White people to avoid falling into White Apathy. Without telling us exactly what to do next, she says:

The aim of this work is not self-loathing. The aim of this work is truth – seeing it, owning it, and figuring out what to do with it. This is lifelong work. Avoid the shortcuts, and be wary of the easy answers. Avoid the breaking down into white fragility. [2]

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is questioned by disciples of the Pharisees. They demand a “yes” or “no” answer to their question, which almost always signals a trap. Jesus’ answer left the disciples amazed — he deftly articulated the governing principle while giving no hint as to what he thought were just or unjust taxes. Very savvy, but not very helpful if the disciples (or their teachers, the Pharisees) were really trying to decide which taxes, if any, a religious person ought to pay.

Jesus offered no easy answers. He offered only a governing principle and left the Pharisee’s disciples to figure it out for themselves. They knew the Law and the Prophets. They knew how to learn and pray and discern together. They would figure it out.

The work of dismantling White Supremacy has general principles and no easy answers. It is work for White people to do, and the specifics of how we do that are for us to figure out. Day after day, because as Saad writes, it is “lifelong work.”

One could wish for more details and specifics, but each of us – and all of the neighborhoods, town and cities we live in – are different. Fortunately, we know the Law and the Prophets. We know how to learn and pray and discern together. I believe we can figure it out.


  1. Saad, Layla F. Me and White Supremacy, (Sourcebooks, Naperville, Ill., 2019), 131.
  2. Saad, Layla F. Me and White Supremacy at 74.

Art: Jesus and the Sadducees…, James Tissot, French, 1836-1902.