When you know who you are what else matters?

Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited

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The other week I ordered the book ‘ Jesus and the disinherited’ by Howard Thurman. I had heard of Thurman over this last few years and Zoom meetings in the United States brought his work closer.

It is said that Martin Luther King jr carried a copy of Thurman’s book with him.

I am just finishing the first chapter in which Thurman outlines why Jesus is a teacher for those who have their backs against the wall. Thurman was writing in the sixties when the Black Civil Rights movement was at its fore. His message or perhaps his re-evaluation of Jesus was intended to give succour and direction to an oppressed people.

He speaks of attitude, when we know who we are at an interior level we better deal with those who seek to oppress.

He places Jesus in a context that easily identifies him with Black Americans in the Sixties, he is Jewish and being subjugated by the Romans. Thurman takes the Sadducees and likens them to those who make a deal with the oppressor to protect their status quo. He takes the Pharisees and shows them to be contemptuous towards Rome. He takes the Zealots who actively resist through violence and then he takes Jesus. What is Jesus’s response to Rome?

I will leave you with three quotes that Thurman gives which answers that question at least for him.

The first is from Jesus, “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.”

The second is Thurman’s.

“He recognised with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his destiny.”

The third is again that of Thurman’s,

“The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.”

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