If you read my last blog (Inside Job), you might remember my reference to an e-mail I received about the issue of slavery and the Bible. The e-mail was a well-crafted recap of how Scripture actually supports slavery rather than abolishes it.
While I disagree with the sentiment that the Bible undergirds slavery, I can certainly see how one could come to that conclusion. While Scripture doesn’t support slavery, it doesn’t directly and specifically condemn it either.
Did Jesus approve of slavery?
As part of his argument, he cited Jesus’ parable about a slave being beaten. (Luke 12:47-48) His observation was that Jesus approved of physically punishing slaves. A clear understanding of Jesus’ parables would not allow for such a viewpoint. This parable, in particular, is merely an illustration of a much different theme. If you study the parables of Jesus, you’ll see he used objects and common circumstances of everyday life as object lessons to make deeper, spiritual points. Slavery was one of the common circumstances of his day, so he used it as such.
For the most part, Jesus didn’t go around making sweeping generalizations about humanity’s social ills. His focus was clearly on the individual heart. It was because of this focus that he earned the reputation of being extremely compassionate.
Jesus was once asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Part of his answer was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) This teaching was at the heart of everything Jesus did when he was here on this earth. It’s at the heart of who he is.
God could have laid out everything he wants us to do as well as everything he wants us to avoid. Yet he didn’t. Maybe the closest he ever came to that was when he issued the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Hebrew people. He seems to take a different route toward guiding us. That route is love.
Who will set us free?
Our general directive is to love God and love our neighbor. Our specific directive is to follow the path of the Holy Spirit. These are not easy tasks, but they are attainable ones.
If we are loving God, loving our neighbor, and following the leading of his Holy Spirit, things like slavery have no place in our lives. It’s just that simple. Jesus didn’t embrace slavery, he didn’t support beating people, but he didn’t physically free all the slaves either (nor did he own any). He DID say, however, that we would be set free by the truth (and that proclamation included slaves).
Our big problem is we are slaves to our own sin, our own egos, and our own selfish motives. That problem dissipates the more we love God, love our neighbor, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The big trick, of course, is to learn to do all that. It doesn’t happen in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a long journey.
Still, it’s a journey worth taking. When more of us decide to take it, the world will be a better place. (To be continued…)
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]