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What Jesus requires of us, is to see the dignity of everyone, not simply as the cog in the means of production, and to walk in solidarity with them. The problems that face working men and women today of which Cash sings are still with us today.
We are called to be neighbors to those in need in a personal, concrete, and intimate way. Our prayer should be that Christ will open our eyes to see those opportunities to be a neighbor like the traveler in the song.
God is always found on the side of the oppressed, not because they are inherently better than the oppressor, but rather simply because they are oppressed. The challenge for us is to see the world as God sees the world.
Cash plays the role of the prophet. He sings about the dehumanization, brutality, and ultimate ineffectiveness of San Quentin Prison. His hatred for the institution pervades the entire song. Cash knows that he is singing for those who have no voice for the injustices that they face.
The song uses the physical presence of Greystone Chapel as a metaphor for the vibrant spirituality that can be found within prison. It is a song about how a person’s mind who is aligned with Jesus can transcend his physical circumstances. In this way, the song echoes Paul’s observation that “where…
In the parable, Jesus is not the do-gooding sheep who goes out to the disenfranchised, rather Jesus IS the disenfranchised. In the live version of the song, Cash introduces us to Jesus in the voices of the prisoners that we hear.
“The Man in Black” not only identifies Cash with the outcast but it calls us to do so as well. Solidarity requires that we be found among the forgotten, because that is where we find Jesus. Solidarity implies that we be involved just as he was.
The Good News of Jesus Christ, however, is that our salvation lies not in our walking-the-line for God, but in God, through Christ, walking-the-line for us.
The bank of the Jordan, on this side of the Resurrection, is full of life’s storms – heartbreak, regret, failure, and death – but we can see the other side. We can see that fair and happy land. Will you come and go with me.
The gospel according to the Man in Black is a gospel rooted in solidarity. The cross of Christ is an act of divine identification with the oppressed, the cursed, and the godforesaken.
At Christmas, we we too are born of God on this day.
At Christmas, the Maker of the world becomes the son of whom He created.