A few years ago I went on a spiritual retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemane. The Trappist monastery where Thomas Merton lived is about an hour drive from my home in Louisville, Kentucky. I spent the weekend in silence, roaming the countryside reading Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems, (another contemplative writer, who like Merton found inspiration from breathing Kentucky air.)
The highlight of each day was to join the monks during their hours of liturgy. After compline, the final hour of the day, retreatants were invited into a small chapel to hear a personal reflection from one of the monks. We huddled in a small circle and listened as this humble man, clad in a white habit, shuffled through the scraps of paper he had doodled on during the day. He shared quotes he had read, poems he had written and a few choice scriptures that tied his thoughts for the day into a beautiful homily. On the final night of my retreat his reflection focused on a question he pondered during the day while walking through the flower garden: What color was Jesus?
I’ll never forget the image this Trappist Monk painted for me. With far more eloquence than I can write the Monk simply reminded us that Jesus lived in the Middle East. He was not white or European. Europe was to the north of Palestine. Nor was Jesus black; Africa was to the south. He continued painting the word picture in my mind. Jesus’s skin tone was not yellow; Asia was to the east. Nor was the color of his skin red; the Americas were to the west. “Jesus was not red, yellow, black or white, instead he was a mix of all humanity. When you mix these four colors together." said the monk, “you get olive, the color of our brothers and sister’s living in the middle east. Jesus was a mixed race savior with olive colored skin.”
Whenever I look at the painting I’m reminded of the words Jesus prayed shortly before he was executed, “Father, my prayer is not for my disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
Jesus went to the cross with a hope and prayer that all of humanity—men and women from every race—would be reconciled to God and to one another. May our hope and prayer be the same. Let us meet at the foot of the cross and be reconciled by the blood of our “mixed race savior.”
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.