There are so many people that have gone before me, people that have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of justice and equality. Because of this, I feel a deep sense of commitment to honor them by standing for some of the same things that they did. I am in complete awe of two things that connect deeply for me. The first is the cross and how Jesus gave his life for us all. The second is my ancestors who somehow understood Jesus’ sacrifice and passed it onto me through intense persecution.
I can’t say that I know persecution like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew. I have been back to southern Alabama many times for family reunions and visited slave graveyards where relatives are buried. This compels me to be and do more with my life. I can’t say I understand why Jesus would choose to become human, walk this earth as a human being, and then die at the hands of his own creations to save those who were crucifying him. However, I do know it pushes me to be and do more with my life. I feel like I would let them down somehow if I didn’t take responsibility for addressing injustice with my life.
My life is not my own. I am the product of sacrifice. I am here because of those who saw beyond themselves and thought personal sacrifice was worth giving up to allow justice to take hold. I am here because Jesus modeled something completely illogical on the cross and then some of my ancestors took that example seriously and repeated it. I have no real right to the life I live. My only recourse is to continue the tradition handed to me in the same way.
Somewhere in my history a family member was taken on a ship, brought to this country, and enslaved. Somewhere in my history an auntie, grandma, or cousin’s children were taken from them and sold as property. Somewhere in my history that same auntie, grandmother, or cousin then went and took loving care of the people’s children who sold hers. Somewhere in my history an uncle or granddad was still somehow able to be a father despite being emasculated, whipped, and forced to stand by and watch as his own wife was raped. Somewhere in my history a family member was set free from slavery but continued to return to the south to free others. I am a product of people that understood grace, sacrifice, and freedom in a profound way.
Given how freedom has come to me through Jesus and incredible human sacrifice, I don’t think I have an option except to continue to speak and suffer for freedom and justice. Where ever we see injustice there should be sacrifice. We think sometimes that when we see injustice we should speak, and while I think speaking out is right, sacrifice is what gets the job done. We must sacrifice for justice. Immeasurable sacrifice has been made for us. The heroes of the past were these many unnamed people that lost their lives because they wouldn’t accept the atrocities of their day. The family whose home was burned because they harbored slaves, the free black folks that died on the passage trying to lead someone else to freedom, and the God who was pierced and mocked on a cross. Sacrifice after sacrifice, life after life, all for the sake of Justice.
As we celebrate black history and head into Lent, what sacrifices are on your mind? We don’t usually think of sacrificing; it is unnatural. However, sacrificing is divine and is entered into out of divine connections. When we encounter God we are reminded that we should be surrendering ourselves for another. The Gospel message, which includes justice, is thrust into place through our sacrifice. Submitting ourselves to the greater purpose in the world and for equality becomes very practical when we deny ourselves for another. There is hope, because there are people willing to die. Hope dies when we choose to live only for ourselves. It is a family pursuit, a Godly example: my life, given for your benefit. Injustice cannot stand in the unyielding pursuit of self-sacrifice. The temptation is the same that was given to Jesus in the wilderness of power and self-gratification. We must resist these the same as Jesus did and take up our crosses for one another.
Leroy Barber is the global executive director of Word Made Flesh, an international organization that works among the most vulnerable of the world's poor. He is on the boards of Mission Year and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community , and Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World and was also chosen as a contributor to Tending to Eden, and the groundbreaking book UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters . He is a member of Emerging Voices.
Image: Jesus bearing the cross, Jef Thompson / Shutterstock.com