I remember often thinking to myself, “how could anyone with even an ounce of decency, let alone the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, seriously support slavery?” I asked myself that question after watching the celebrated Roots miniseries years ago. I asked myself that question when I read or heard about the heinous Apartheid system in place in South Africa. I have asked myself this question when observing people of low caste or no caste in other parts of the world. And these days, with great regularity, I ask the question, no I am haunted by the question, when I consider the plight of the millions upon millions made victims by human trafficking. Millions upon millions—one source I read recently reports:
One hundred forty-three years after passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and 60 years after Article 4 of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned slavery and the slave trade worldwide, there are more slaves than at any time in human history — 27 million.
(Interview or Ben Skinner by Terrence McNally @ http://www.alternet.org/story/142171/there_are_more_slaves_today_than_at_any_time_in_human_history)
Sadly, even these 27 million (and counting!) misleads us if we are interested in knowing the full dimensions of this scourge. For every enslaved person how many family members must live knowing or wondering about the plight of their loved one? For every slave how many friends live with sadness and fear? For every slave how many perpetrators and their co-conspirators, and how many of their networks and supporting systems, knowingly or not, strengthen the hand of other forms of bondage and death-dealing by which evil thrives in multiple ways? And for every slave how many are polluted by the deeper and darker moral stain that may be hard to detect, especially in one’s self and among one’s own, but nonetheless penetrates into the core of who we are becoming?
How could anyone seriously support slavery, especially if they know, love and follow Jesus? Indeed, and yet in each of those cases I have sited, there have been many who have actively supported or passively tolerated some form of bondage for any number of reasons. Often regard for one’s own economic wellbeing, security and comfort have trumped the Light and Life of Jesus to such an extent that otherwise very fine people have become complicit in the merchandizing of precious people made in the image of God, loved to death by God, and intended for eternal glory.
I want to believe that this is just a function of ignorance, but suspect the reasons are more sinister and culpable. I want to assume that if given the chance most of us would rush to help in any way possible, but know from experience that “rush” is too strong a word. I am not pointing fingers in this regard. I am testifying.
No, I am confessing. It is Lent, after all. Jesus has set his face with unyielding intent. He will go to Jerusalem, to the Holy City, and enter into a showdown with the powers that design and support the killing and enslaving of all of us—all of us. In the course of the showdown, it gets worse before it gets better. Jesus “loses,” I mean, he gives in and gives up, he lets them do it. He even makes it easy. He denies self, takes a cross, and goes … there. He surrenders and “loses.”
Now, I know that he doesn’t lose. I know he wins, and that my conception of the scope and depth of his winning is never large and deep enough. I know, but in this season of Lent it is best to dwell longer on the apparent losing, the surrendering, the giving in and up … in order to achieve a different kind of victory, a more comprehensive and holistic freedom from what they did to him and would do to all, and why and how.
Jesus did all this, most of which we have just a trace of understanding, in order to set us free. He went there and surrendered so that we wouldn’t have to, so that through his surrender the enslavement of all people might be broken along with the fear it generates. He offered himself so completely, until there was nothing left, so that the freedom achieved might be correspondingly complete so that no one would have to settle for less than a glorious liberty.
But none of it is automatic, is it? He liberates, but does not compel. He woos, he invites, he assures, he leads; he continues to give, to support, to arrange things, to help so that others might be free.
And he calls us to follow. He gave himself to the losing, to the dying, in order that we might be winning and living. He gave himself so that in our winning and living, we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, and with him. He put it all down until nothing was left so that we and all might be free indeed. He did all that even though we were unaware, perhaps unconcerned, maybe even uninterested. And what he did for us he did for all, with equal passion and potentially equal effect.
How profoundly sad that my condition required such caring, such denying, such losing and surrendering! How incredible that in these ways he should be all-in for my freedom! How blessed that I should have been born in a place and in circumstances that allowed me to know and benefit from all he has done, and join in sharing the same with others!
Well, I could go on and on. I will go on and on. This is Lent, after all. But …
How can I not do something? How can I not care that my clothes and food might be tainted by entanglement with the enslavement of others? How could I continue to buy and wear or eat that? How can I not want to know to what extent the selling and trafficking of people goes on right where I live? How could I not want to give anything that could help? I love chocolate but seriously, would I insist on my rights to indulge when what I love aides and abets what God hates? How can I get crazy about my football team’s victories or lament its losses, and be restrained over this breed of living-dead that are physiologically alive but walking/working dead in terms of God’s plan? How can I be so concerned about counting the cost of helping when often I give scarcely a thought at all about a few bucks here and a few there? How can I remain still and impassive when I know deeply, have sensed at the core of who I am, that I have experienced freedom so that others might as well?
I was set free to set free! I could go on and on. And I will.