by Rick Derksen
Lectionary texts: Psalm 77; Job 5:8-27; 1 Peter 3:8-18a
In his book On Job, God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, Latin American liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez points out the role the Church has played throughout history in reinforcing the notion that the poor and oppressed are to blame for their own suffering. That is, that the suffering of the oppressed is a result of their own sins – something Job’s friends tried to convince him of as well – and that wealth and power are God’s rewards to those who are honest and hard-working. Gutiérrez goes on to show that the important turning point in the book of Job takes place when Job realizes that “he is not the only one to experience the pain of unjust suffering.” Job moves from a focus on his individual situation to the suffering of the innocent poor of this world, from a purely personal ethic to one of solidarity.
In his exhortation to followers of Jesus who were experiencing suffering and oppression at the hands of the Roman Empire, the writer of 1 Peter reminds them in verse 18 that Christ also suffered. In My Sister, My Brother, womanist theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher challenges us to rethink Christ’s suffering and death. By shifting the focus to the resurrection – thus demonstrating the power of God to overcome oppression – suffering is seen as the result of an “ethic of risk,” or actively struggling for social justice.
What would it mean for those of us who are white like me and benefit from unearned privilege and power in this society to see Christ’s suffering, like Job’s, as an invitation to risk-taking as we work to undo our own racism, the racism in our faith communities, the racism in our society? If we are not willing to take risks, how can we talk about solidarity?
Loving and all-powerful God, in Christ’s suffering and death you have shown us what it means to take risks, to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Give us the courage to do the same, knowing that you are the God of the resurrection. Amen
Rick Derksen is a trainer with Roots of Justice and serves on the ROJ board. He’s an antiracism organizer with several Seattle-based activist groups including European Dissent, EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex), and the Seattle Race Conference committee. His identities include white, male, partner of 40 years, parent, grandparent, ordained Mennonite minister, and part of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church.