Deuteronomy 15:12-18: Slavery
A Favorite from January 23, 2009.
We experience all sorts of slavery in our lives: slavery to work, slavery to ideas, and slavery to people. Paul characterizes himself many times as a slave of Christ, obeying to the utmost, owning nothing, being strength itself in his earthly weakness and poverty.
Gossip repeated commits us to a kind of slavery. The speaker can never move out of an entrenched opinion; the victim remains stuck in an unpleasant characterization. The irony of slavery is that it reduces the owner more than the slave; and perhaps that is why we see the recommendation in today’s reflection that the slave be set free . . . For remember, you were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God ransomed you.
At the time the book of Deuteronomy was written, and also in Jesus’ day, slavery was an accepted fact of life. Only the Essenes of Qumran rejected it in principle (Achetemeier 1031) as we can read in the works of Josephus, a Jewish historian. The famous stoic philosopher Epictetus was a slave, as was the family of St Paul. Slaves in Old Testament days were mainly for domestic service, and they “played a minor economic role in the ancient Near East” (Achetemeier 1029). Crown and temple slaves were usually captured during war; private slaves were defaulting debtors and their families, or indigents who resorted to self-sale. In New Testaments days under Roman rule, slaves comprised as much as thirty five percent of the population. Poor masters were to be punished; slaves were to participate in the Sabbath rest. Many of the rules regarding slaves were established in an effort to maintain the dignity and humanity of these human beings; but no matter its form or purpose, slavery is something to be abolished. It meant “social death” in ancient times (Achetemeier 1030) and remains so today – cutting the slave off from family, friends, homeland and resources.
To what are we slaves today? Who do we enslave by our words and actions? How might we free ourselves and others from chains real or unreal?
The only freedom that is eternal and redeeming is that which comes when we give ourselves over to God’s love. Placing ourselves in the compassionate hands of Christ is the single most effective method of ensuring that we are slaves to no one and to nothing; for when we place God before all else in our lives . . . we put ourselves in a place which no shackle can chain.
God always rescues; he always keeps his promises. As the prophet Zechariah tells us (8:7-8): Thus says the Lord of hosts; Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun, and from the land of the setting sun. I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.
No matter where we are or what our condition, we are well-loved by our creator. When we turn to him and agree to serve him only, we live in a state of freedom which can never be enslaved. Would it not be wonderful if we might set ourselves and others free from the chains in which we have entrapped them?
From this morning’s MAGNIFICAT intercessions:
For those who feel hopelessly trapped by the habits of sin: grant them forgiveness and peace.
For those who fear your anger: show them also your love.
For those who delay examining their decisions and habits: let them see how quickly life passes.
God in heaven, deliver us, rescue us, set us free from all that keeps us from you. Amen.
Achetemeier, Paul J. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE DICTIONARY. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996. 1031. Print.
Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 1.23 (2009). Print.
For more on the Essenes of Qumran, click on the image above or visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/essenes.html