In this month of February, we will celebrate love and Black history. The celebration of Black history is relevant because often the contributions of African Americans over these hundreds of years have not received proper recognition. Many cultures, including those who identify as African American, do not realize the rich history of African Americans.
Like the protagonist in Richard Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, written in 1952, African Americans today still seem invisible and treated like they do not exist. Often it is not other races treating African Americans as invisible. We treat ourselves as if we do not see who we really are. In Matthew 27, we witness the close of Jesus’ life here on earth. In these verses, he is beaten, insulted, and sent on a bloody journey to Golgotha for crucifixion.
At the beginning of his walk, a Roman soldier forces a man of Cyrene named Simon to bear Jesus’ cross. The Romans had a right to force any visitor into service, and so Simon was called upon to carry the cross. The crucifixion during this era was not just about enduring the pain and shame of hanging from a cross—it also included the added humility of carrying the heavy cross.
Often during the slave era, post-Reconstruction, and the days of Jim Crow, African Americans were forced to do some humiliating tasks. We were not seen as worthy of doing anything else. In many cases, we are still seen as less than human. Today we are still viewed as “throwaways,” according to Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow. We are still invisible cross-bearers. But Jesus sees each one of us. Jesus just does not look at us, but sees us inside and out. Being visible or seen does not mean having notoriety on the evening news or being plastered on the cover of a CD. When systems erase the identity and value of an individual, then these systems make the person invisible.
In Jesus’ eyes, Simon of Cyrene is more than someone being coerced into bearing his cross. Simon is his disciple, his follower and someone willing to walk with him to Golgotha. Unfortunately, no matter how successful African Americans become in this life, at the end of the day—they must go the extra mile for people (including their own) to see them as more than what society has stereotyped them to be. Until we see ourselves as more than what we have been labeled as, we will remain invisible. As long as we continue to be ‘number one’ on every crime statistic, we will remain invisible. As long as we continue to act like crabs in bucket, holding each other back, and hating on each other, we will remain invisible. The Roman soldiers will still be picking us out of the crowds, seeing us as unworthy and unfit to do anything else.
As we look at Simon’s role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, let us remember that Jesus saw him. Although assigned this humiliating task, Jesus saw Simon’s heart. Simon saw himself as privileged and doing something honorable—carrying Jesus’ cross.
When we go through this life, and experience those times when we feel invisible, alone, ignored, unappreciated, and underused (whether it is based on racism or rejection), we must remember that Jesus sees us. As the songwriter said, “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely, and long for my heavenly home? When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” Jesus sees you.