Jesus, The Church, And My Cultural Identity: Part I

Part I: Jesus Had A Cultural Identity

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Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker: “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter.”

It’s a little cheesy, but it makes an excellent point. Jesus has a cultural identity.

Ever think about that?

Of course it’s true, but how does that help us? Well, as it turns out, it helps us in a lot of ways.

First, the gospel depends on His enculturated lineage (Matthew 1:1). Jesus has to be the Jewish Messiah in order to fulfill the scriptures. And being the Jewish Messiah is not something you happen upon. It’s something you are born into. Matthew and Luke’s gospels make no bones about putting Jesus’ Jewishness front and center. It was necessary.

Speaking of His lineage, the Bible doesn’t even try to hide the ethnic diversity in Jesus’ family tree (Luke 3, Matthew 1). In fact, Matthew seems to point to it by directing our attention to His connection with Abraham and making it clear that Rahab and Ruth are His not so distant grandmothers (Matthew 15).

So, of course, Jesus has an ethnocultural identity. But what is interesting to me is that Jesus personally identifies with Israel’s culture in many places (John 2, 7, 10; Matthew 23:37). He embraced the culture as His own. Let’s look at that.

In John’s gospel, we see Jesus attending nearly all of the major Jewish celebrations: The Feast of Tabernacles, The Dedication of the Temple (also known as Hanukkah), and of course Passover. But He also attends dinner parties (Luke 19, Luke 7, Mark 14) and weddings (John 2), and has a habit of interrupting funerals (Luke 7, John 11, Mark 5). He travels with friends who have a Galilean accent (Matthew 26:73) and presumably has one too (John 1:46). He even prefers Galilean snacks (Luke 24:42-43).

Jesus’ heart for His own people and culture are clear. In Luke 19:41-44,He weeps over Jerusalem. In Luke 13:34-35, Jesus expresses His love for the people of Jerusalem. He expresses His love with a rural analogy. He wants to protect them the way a hen protects baby chicks from danger. Jesus chooses to show loving concern for His culture in an enculturated expression of that love.

But Luke 13:34-35 is important because, in the same breath, Jesus rebukes the people He loves for their lack of faithfulness. Specifically, Jesus rebukes them for the cultural sins of supremacy and idolatry that lead them to reject His message of peace.

So yes, Jesus has a cultural identity, and He uses it to express Himself, to express love, and to engage with others. At the same time, He rejects any notion of a cultural identity that supersedes identity in God’s family. In our next post, we will look at how Jesus stood against ethno-cultural supremacy and see how He responded to people with other ethnic identities.  

Wesley Price lives in East Atlanta with his amazing wife, Angey. Cullen and Lincoln are the little people that you see them with. Wesley was previously a worship pastor for 12 years, and now works in IT. Angey and Wesley are members of Blueprint Church and are a part of the Grant Park Missional Community.