Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Ezekiel 36:22-27, Ephesians 6:1-24, Matthew 9:18-26
“Slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.”
We can thank Saint Paul for that gem. Sure he also said “in Christ there is no slave or free” and instructed masters to be merciful to their slaves because they ultimately served the same master in heaven, but neither of those satisfactorily addresses the fact that at no time did Paul (or Jesus, for that matter) explicitly condemn slavery. For most of Christian history, slavery was taken for granted, and that verse has been used to justify it.
Once the idea of slavery became unacceptable to almost all mainstream Christians, we weren’t sure what to do with Jesus’s seeming acceptance of it. Some of us tried to differentiate the experience of Biblical slavery versus pre-Civil War slavery in the United States, but in the end all slavery boils down to owning human beings as property. Shouldn’t Jesus have a problem with that?
Of course that question implies Jesus is OK with the way most Christians do things now, and that can be a dangerous assumption. Every human system is flawed. America seems to all but worship capitalism, lumping it in with democracy and Christianity as a kind of US-bred holy trinity, but capitalism itself is amoral and by definition favors the rich above the poor. Not that communism has a fantastic human rights track record. Democracy is subject to mob rule and corruption, and monarchy to tremendous abuses of power. No earthly economic or government system has or can eradicate poverty, oppression, and injustice.
Christ’s message (and consequently Paul’s) transcends these human structures. As the church matures, each generation expands its concept of justice. The past does not invalidate the message, so much as prompt us to look at the present with a more critical eye. Christians led the fight against slavery. The church has evolved from feeding the hungry to tackling the systemic problems which starve them in the first place. What are the next steps in learning to love our neighbors as ourselves? Our job is not to perform theological contortions to explain away the inexcusable; it is to determine how we are to apply Christ’s message today.
Someone will always be waiting to be freed by the gospel.
Comfort: You don’t have to try to excuse the inexcusable things of the past…
Challenge: … but you can’t ignore the inexcusable things of the present.
Prayer: God of love, teach me to shine your light on injustice. Amen.
Discussion: What commonly accepted practices do you think future Christians will look back on in moral embarrassment?
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