My eldest daughter has been learning about the civil rights struggles of the 20th century, and how African-Americans were only allowed to use certain restrooms and playgrounds. Now, this is a pretty common school subject for any American child, but she is learning it at a school that is 99% African-American, so the subject matter is far more personal than it would be elsewhere.
One day, she was explaining what she had been learning about civil rights, and she would say things like the government wouldn’t let “us” use the same drinking fountains as white people. I realized then that because of her school environment, because all of her classmates and teachers were black, she had come to identify herself strongly with the African-American community, and even had come to see herself as African-American. I paused for a moment to think this through, and then had to explain to her that while it was true that segregation had happened to black people, we were Asian, and our background and story were different. She thought about it for a moment, but seemed to understand what I was saying to her.
But later, she drew this picture of children playing on a playground, complete with the caption, “Only Blaks [sic] and Asians”. I didn’t ask her to explain it further, but deduced that it is a drawing of a segregated playground in which only black and asian children are allowed to play on! So despite my attempt to differentiate her cultural identity from that of African-Americans, she instead just fused her newfound Asian background with her current black context – she persisted in identifying with black people, even though she now understood that she herself was Asian! And for some reason, that really touched me, her resistance to do what humans by nature tend to do, which is separate and differentiate themselves from others, and instead, continue to identify with them instead…despite the differences. She is such a special girl.
And it relates to something that I had been thinking about from Scripture, a passage from Hebrews 2:11-13
Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Jesus’ ministry was not just one of atonement, of making a way back to God through his work on the cross, and the resurrection – as amazing as that ministry is. It was also a ministry of identification. Through Jesus’ incarnation, and through the suffering that he endured, he who is fully God still identifies fully with us, even to the point of seeing us as his brothers and sisters. He understands us, identifies with us, and is on our side. And so, we don’t just have a Savior in Christ, but also, a Brother and a Counselor as well, one who understands us completely. With this, Jesus’ ministry is not just one of salvation, but of friendship and compassion as well.