“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23: 29 – 32
For the past few years, our past has come into much more scrutiny. There have been big national conversations about the impact of the slave trade, the legacy of Empire, and, perhaps most contentiously, the monuments and statues that remember them.
Often, we have reassured ourselves in the exact same way the Pharisees did: ‘if I had lived back then, I would have done the right thing’. But that wasn’t good enough for Jesus. The Pharisees claimed their legitimacy as being the intellectual and spiritual successors of the exact same men who persecuted the prophets. Jesus said, you can’t criticise these men yet also claim them as your cherished ancestors, if you do, you’ll just repeat their mistakes. And as we saw with their persecution of Jesus, the did repeat the same mistakes.
When we look to our own past, perhaps it’s better if we don’t hide behind the comfort of, ‘well I would have been one of the good ones’, and instead seriously investigate the past we’ve inherited. We are not personally responsible for the actions of our ancestors, but their actions shape the world we live in today. We have a responsibility to shine a light on their legacy, and where it is causing injustice, to bring about change.
Prayer: God of Justice, the past is complex and such a mix of good and bad. Help me to look at history with honesty and integrity. Give me the courage to confront uncomfortable truths, and the wisdom to spot and celebrate stories throughout history of people who showed Christlike love.
Action: Learn some history. I’ve been watching the BBC’s Black and British: A Forgotten History and I can highly recommend it: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b082w9p9/black-and-british-a-forgotten-history-1-first-encounters