The Christological significance of Jesus is not an abstract question to be solved by intellectual debates among seminary professors. The meaning of Jesus is an existential question. We know who he is when our own lives are placed in a situation of oppression, and we thus have to make a decision for or against our condition.
Persons who live in the real world have to encounter the concreteness of suffering without suburbs as places of retreat. To be oppressed is to encounter the overwhelming presence of human evil without any place to escape…
…who can ‘pray’ when all hell has broken loose and human existence is being trampled underfoot by evil forces? Prayer takes on new meaning. It has nothing to do with those Bible verses that rulers utter before eating their steaks, in order to remind themselves that they are religious and have not mistreated anybody. Who can thank God for food when we know that our brothers and sisters are starving as we dine like kings? Prayer is not kneeling, morning, noon and evening. This is a tradition that is characteristic of whites; they use it to reinforce the rightness of their destruction of blacks. Prayer is the spirit that is evident in all oppressed communities when they know that they have a job to do.
Just as Jesus knew he could be executed when he went to Jerusalem, Martin Luther King, Jr., knew that threats against his life could be realized in Memphis. Like Jesus’ disciples who rejected the idea that his mission entailed his suffering and death (Mk 8:31-32), nearly everyone in King’s organization vigorously opposed his journey to Memphis, not only because of the dangers but because of the need to focus on the coming Poor People’s Campaign in Washington. But King, like Jesus, felt he had no choice: he had to go to Memphis and aid the garbage workers in their struggle for dignity, better wages, and a safer work place. He had to go because his faith demanded it.
When will the church ever realize that it is too white to be followers of Jesus? When will the church wake up to the fact that until they stop living in ignorance of the poor and of even propagating degrading poverty within their own ranks that they can never be Christian? When will these kind, nice folk ever resolve themselves to voluntary poverty for the sake of the Gospel, sell everything they have, and give the proceeds to the poor so that they can be released from their own bondage to themselves?