We all know that Jesus was a Jew, however, he and his disciples were referred to as Galileans. By knowing that he was from Galilee, people in general, Jerusalem Jews, and especially religious leaders assumed his social context. A context where Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs, Greeks, Orientals, and Jews were neighbors, and it was also very commerce-oriented and as a result the Jewish sector was more open to diversity and allowed for this mix. However, there were others that became more militant exclusivists. Theologian Virgilio Elizondo states that there was a continuous biological mestizaje because of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, as well as a cultural mestizaje. This mix or mestizaje of Galilee and the Galileans made them impure to the eyes of the Jerusalem Jews and it was also a reason for rejection. According to the Pharisees, the Galileans were ignorant of the law. In addition to that, the Sadducees argued that those in Galilee were careless when it came to religious matters and rules of temple worship.
Elizondo suggests that this mix gave Galileans a nuance to their Judaism, and this influence gave them a different view on life than what the Jerusalem Jews had. Galilean Jews were also mocked by educated Greeks and other Jews because of their accent, they were not able to pronounce certain sounds. According to the rabbis, this defect of pronunciation impeded them from studying the law. Also, Galileans were sometimes forbidden to pray in public in the synagogue because of this. However, their Judaism was more personal, organic, and simpler, something that the Jewish intelligentsia saw as a contamination of foreign influence.
Jesus’ birth was also spoken of because for many it had suspicious origins since according to human standards it was impossible for a virgin to bear a child. For many he was considered an illegitimate child. According to Elizondo, many Roman soldiers lived in Galilee, and as is true in all conquering practices native women were abused as a sign of conquering power, which is the worst humiliation for the abused women and for the men who are not able to do anything about it. It was probable that many stories existed about whom Jesus’ real father was, Joseph or a Roman soldier. Yet, it was a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit that brought him to life.
In the gospel of Matthew (1:1-16) Jesus’ genealogy is listed and places Jesus with the marginalized groups. It begins with a converted pagan, Abraham, then continues through the patriarchs, the slaves of Egypt, a shepherd named David who became king, and finally to his father Joseph, a carpenter. Apart from Mary his mother, the other women on the list include Tamar, who prostituted herself (Gen. 38:6-26), Ruth, who was an immigrant, Rahab, a harlot (Josh. 2:1), and Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife who committed adultery with David (2 Sam. 11:4). It is also evident that during his ministry Jesus had a special identification and love for the most marginalized from society. Jesus’ love and relationship with people outside the law like prostitutes, tax collectors, foreigners, the poor and oppressed put him in conflict with religious leaders because of his concern with just treatment (Matt. 23:23). Another example is Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4), at a well, who suffered not only from a questionable reputation, but who was twice marginalized because of her ethnicity and gender.
As it is the case for thousands of immigrants, Jesus experienced migration and knew and understood the suffering of living as an undocumented immigrant. Having grown up in Galilee, Jesus was bicultural, and bilingual, a reject from his own culture and from the dominant culture. Jesus Christ is the ultimate bicultural and personification of otherness. With his condition of the other as a result of his mestizo identity, he was able to break the religious, social, and political barriers in Jerusalem, which were the center of all powers and structures of his day. And in him, not only did Galileans but all humanity found identity. “The Son of God made man for our salvation is no longer a mighty powerful, and distant other, as all the important people of society and even church have been for us; rather he is one of our own who lived the same violence and social distance that we have been subjected to.”
In his mestizo identity Jesus Christ creates unity by breaking the barriers of separation caused by sin. This is also something that any mestizo would do, trying to create a new identity out of the one given by the dominant culture and by the individual’s own culture. By being an insider-outsider and an outsider-insider to both worlds the mestizo has the unique privilege of understanding both worlds and can affirm both of these identities and offer something new to both. Finding one’s identity in the mestizaje and mission of Jesus, means going from a place of marginalization to a place of unity in Christ. This was Christ’s mission, the unity of the human family. In the end it does not matter the country of origin, religion, or family name. It matters that humans live out the will of God (Mark 3:35).
Books referenced in the article written by Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise and The Future is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet.
Evelmyn Ivens was born in Mexico and moved to the United States during her teenage years. Graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Theological Studies and works at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Chicago. Evelmyn has lived in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL, enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures. She’s passionate about issues of immigration, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking. She tweets at @eivenspo.
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