Monday, March 28, 2022

Give Them Food at the Proper Time

 “Who is the faithful and wise slave whom the master will set over his household slaves to give them food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find doing so when he arrives.” (Matthew 24:45-46)

English translations of the Bible often render the Greek word doulos as servant, but that’s inaccurate. The precise meaning is slave.

The economic and social order of the time depended on slavery—so much so, that the idea of abolishing slavery was practically unthinkable.

Slaves generally hoped to buy their own freedom, and sometimes they rebelled to escape slavery. However, there's little evidence that anyone in ancient times imagined a possible society without slavery.

There are ancient records of freed slaves going on to acquire other people as slaves.

All power, violence, and money in society supported slavery. Slavish ways of thinking structured everyone’s hearts and minds.

Jesus chose to enter an enslaved world and speak to enslaved people. We sometimes forget this, and in forgetting it, we forget who Jesus is.

Jesus did what had to be done to liberate the world—I’m not speaking only of spiritual liberation, but of literal legal emancipation. He spoke to a slavish mentality and worked to defeat it with the power of its own logic.

In Matthew, chapter twenty-four, Jesus tells slaves to provide for the needs of their fellow slaves. He also tells slaves in supervisory roles not to beat their subordinates. These are not metaphors. Jesus is speaking literally.

He tells slaves not to contribute to the brutality of slavery, but to care for others.

He tells them they are answerable to God who is their real lord and who will hold them accountable.

This accountability to God was Jesus’s message to all, including slave owners.

Though Jesus didn't directly condemn slavery, the body of his teachings tended to make the institution untenable.

Three centuries later, St. Gregory of Nyssa—who arguably understood the drift of Jesus’s teachings better than anyone who came before—declared for the first time that slavery was sin and blasphemy.

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For more on Gregory of Nyssa’s opposition to slavery, see here.

Monday, March 21, 2022

I Honor my Father

 “The Judeans said to him, ‘Do we not say correctly that you are a Samaritan and that you have a demon?’ Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.’” (John 9:48-49)

The Gospels give an account of the conflicts Jesus had with the religious establishment of his day.

How is this good news? What is new or good about conflict?

The god of this world always pits people against each other. Each faction defends its own half-truths while dismissing and abusing any truth on the other side.

Does Jesus add fuel to this fire?

I think Jesus’s life shows us that, despite all the destructive and futile conflicts in this world, some battles are necessary.

Jesus fought the religious establishment knowing what would happen to him. He fought not to win but to maintain his integrity.

He fought because to fight was to be who he was. Not to fight would have been to lose himself.

Who was he? He was what he is—the one who honors his Father.

Ultimately, integrity is victory.

In his integrity, Jesus bore witness to truth—not in a neutral, non-committal way, but, where necessary, calling out people who were harming others by suppressing the truth. He wants us to do the same.

Of course, the fight for truth begins in ourselves. To have integrity, we must seek, find, and accept the truth—the work of a lifetime.

The opinions of our political or religious tribe should not be enough for us—just as they weren’t enough for Jesus.

Instead, we can interpret what our opponents say charitably, acknowledging whatever truth is in it.

And we can turn from rationalizations to reasons, from prejudice to evidence.

In bearing witness, we might be wrong. For the sake of truth, let’s be willing to be corrected.

Jesus had compassion for those who were wrong. Let’s do the same.

A servant of Truth is both militant and merciful.

The good news is that God fights for truth. We can fight with him.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

They Wash Their Hands

“For the Pharisees and the Judeans as a whole do not eat unless they wash their hands all the way up the length of the forearm, upholding the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:3)

Jesus healed and taught and fought.

He fought not so much against blatant evil as against the false appearance of good.

Evil always wants to look good.

Jesus especially fought against the false piety of the religious establishment.

It really looks like he fought mainly against respectable religious people.

The awkward truth is that respectable religious people often make life hell for others.

He fought against those performing rituals and following rules and preaching obedience to the letter of the law.

They were practicing religion in bad faith. They were gleaming white on the outside and dead on the inside.

Jesus was what his enemies only pretended to be. And they called him a lawbreaker.

They were legalists. When they saw something written in scripture, they called it God’s word.

They saw that scripture declared certain meats unclean, and they prohibited them.

Jesus saw the same prohibitions, but he declared all foods clean.

Jesus revered scripture, and yet the letter of scripture meant nothing to him—unless it communicated the living Spirit.

The Spirit can and does contradict scripture. The Spirit is God and scripture is only a thing that God made, imperfect like the people through whom it was made.

What is sacred in scripture is the self-revealing presence of God. God is present in the imperfect.

Jesus does not read scripture as a lawyer but as a child listening for the voice of his Father.

Legalism never hears God’s voice. It only worships the traditions of men.

To be clear, respect for the law isn't legalism. Law is a tool that helps maintain order. We must respect it.

And legalism isn’t morality. A legalist will immorally follow rules even if it means wronging their neighbor.

Either laws enforce our neighborly love, or they must bow to the higher Law.