I told a seminarian friend that Jesus was complicit in slavery. There was an argument lasting hours and days, via text when we parted in person, in which my friend attempted to defend the divinity of Christ. Jesus was not (he argued) complicit with slavery, nor with child-rape and human trafficking, nor with pollution or any of the other massive failings of humanity that Christ never mentioned. We expect with twenty-first century minds (my friend argued) that Jesus would have specifically condemned these practices, but instead Jesus provided us with such a perfect, loving example in his life that he became the inspiration for an abolitionist movement.
I don’t buy it. An abolitionist movement inspired a thousand years after Christ doesn’t bear witness to Christ’s anti-slavery nature, any more than the KKK bears witness to Christ’s inherent preference for white American protestants. A man who, within his own lifetime, inspired average men to give away all of their worldly possessions, who inspired rich men to go broke, and who validated the humanity of sex-workers and taxpayers, should have been able to validate the humanity of slaves as well.
The obvious truth to me is something carefully avoided: Jesus didn’t know slavery was wrong.
He didn’t think marital rape was a thing, and he didn’t know computers or airplanes would ever exist. According to Catholic thought, Jesus was not merely entirely divine; he was also entirely human. Yet the majority of religious consideration fixates on Christ’s divinity. Why should we, who are human, feel the most qualified, comfortable and familiar discussing how unlike us is God?
It must be an inability to grasp what is human and failing in ourselves that seeks to elevate the importance of Jesus’ divinity over his humanity. If we can’t see the Jesus who walked past slaves at market, failing to see them, then who do we imagine we are when we promise to follow him? Will we imagine futures for ourselves where we can stand before God with no guilt to confess? Are we harboring aspirations of being, in our own ways, perfect, and worthy of paradise?
Jesus wasn’t perfect. He didn’t see the hosts of a wedding suffering, and he didn’t think their discomfort was worth his own risk, until his mother told him so. He tried to heal a blind man, once, and had to try again. He told us to be perfect, as his father in heaven was perfect. So try. What can we do except try? But Jesus wasn’t perfect. God became him anyway.