Bob Dylan and the BLACK CROSS (HEZEKIAH JONES)

I was listening to some Bob Dylan the other day when I ran across his version of Black Cross, a poem by Joseph Newman in 1948.

I jumped out at me most likely because I’m currently reflecting on the Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. This poem/song is really intense and deeply theological. It captures the question, a picture of culture and even a picture of religion, that Jesus knew humanity will forever wrestle with: who is my neighbor? It also brings up the deep question of how Christians manifest their beliefs, and reveals that the “unbelieving” man Hezekiah, was really far more the believer than the preacher was.

My prayer is that we may learn how to manifest our beliefs in a way that are faithful to Jesus (and this parable).

This is the story of Hezekiah Jones…

Hezekiah Jones lived in a place… in Arkansas.
He never had too much, except he had some land,
An’ he had a couple of hogs and things like that.
He never had much money
But he’d spend what he did make as fast as he made it,
So it never really mattered that he had much money.
But in a cupboard there, He kept in the cupboard… he kept in the cupboard books,
He called the books his “rainy season.”

The white folks around the county there talked about Hezekiah…
They… said, “Well… old Hezekiah, he’s harmless enough,
but the way I see it he better put down them goddam books,
Readin’ ain’t no good, for nigger is nigger.”

One day the white man’s preacher came around
Knockin’ on doors, knockin’ on all the doors in the county,
He knocked on Hezekiah’s door.
He says, “Hezekiah, you believe in the Lord?”
Hezekiah says, “Well, I don’t know, I never really SEEN the Lord,
I can’t say, yes, I do…”

He says, “Hezekiah, you believe in the Church?”
Hezekiah says, “Well, the Church is divided, ain’t they,
And… they can’t make up their minds.
I’m just like them, I can’t make up mine either.”

He says, “Hezekiah, you believe that if a man is good Heaven is his last reward?”
Hezekiah says, “I’m good… good as my neighbor.”

“You don’t believe in nothin’,” said the white man’s preacher,
You don’t believe in nothin’!”
“Oh yes, I do,” says Hezekiah,
“I believe that a man should be indebted to his neighbors
Not for the reward of Heaven or fear of hellfire.”

“But you don’t understand,” said the white man’s preacher,
“There’s a lot of good ways for a man to be wicked…”

Then they hung Hezekiah high as a pigeon.
White folks around there said, “Well… he had it comin’
‘Cause the son-of-a-bitch never had no religion!”

You can listen here.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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