It is Black Friday, and I am pondering our blind pursuit of things.
One of the greatest moral blots on the United States of America is the trafficking in, and abuse of, slaves. Whether we are speaking of the African and Islanders, the permanently indentured Irish and Chinese or the subjugated Native Americans, the practice was (and is) deplorable. Slavery, like divorce, is a sinful practice permitted by God only for the purposes of regulation. (Since it was going to happen, God placed rules on it.)
Men and women with spiritual and societal insight saw the evils of the system of slavery and did what they could to reverse it or at least mitigate its harm. One of the most powerful assaults on that system was the creation of a society of freedmen. These former slaves, released from bondage through manumission (being freed as an individual by an individual) or emancipation (being freed as a group), stood witness to the horrors of slavery and grappled with the hardships of creating a place for themselves in a nation that all but denied their existence as a people group.
Among the most pitiful stories are those of freedmen who became so frustrated and disenchanted with the struggle for survival in a hostile social system that they retreated to their life of servitude, choosing to live as slaves again. I can almost see them slinking back to their chains, broken in spirit and starving for the essentials of life. I cannot help but weep for them. Human beings should never be so deeply scarred as to willingly submit to the role of a piece of property.
The practice of slavery is not dead. God forgive us, we are simultaneously slaves and slaveholders every day that we embrace life in this broken world. We buy and sell in markets supplied by slave labor. We chase bargains and increase the hold of the oppressor on the market. We hire folk as cheaply as we can and offer minimal benefits. We gather wealth and hoard goods. We think we are gaining ground, but we are sliding deeper and deeper into servitude to our master, the lord of greed.
We hear stories of the power of love, grace and generosity, but we behave as if those concepts were wispy clouds passing over us impotently. We form bands within the greater society and work as networks to enrich ourselves and our kind at the expense of others. We huddle in the dark, nursing our personal power and commend the balance of society to their own devices.
The Kingdom of God stands in stark contrast to this shameful behavior. While we hoard our bread, the Lord blesses, breaks and distributes whatever is available. We pack our closets and rent storage space while the Lord commands that anyone with two coats share with those who have none. We buy vacation homes while others go homeless. We toss pennies in the collection plate for ministry to the poor, offering the Kingdom of God less than we would leave as a tip in our favorite restaurant.
To what extent are we living out our faith? Yes, living it out means running against the current of the world around us, but we have been redeemed at such great expense. It would be a shame indeed to go slinking back to the way of the world and be willingly enslaved again. What would we say to the One who freed us? How would we explain having wasted the gift?
Life may break us. (It surely will, given time.) But it would be better to die as a freedman than to survive as a slave. Let us struggle against the current until the Lord takes us home, and let us free as many as we can along the way.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:31-34
“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.