Tuesday, June 2, 2015

the slave Savior

I am not the right person to write this. I'm from the slave owner class, the employer caste. When it comes to this section of scripture I want to take a pass. Half of the people in Paul's world were slaves, real actual slaves. Someone else owned them. How many of the helpers working in Hong Kong are "debt slaves"?  It's not the master/slave, boss/worker class distinction that bothers me, but rather the instructions to be a "good slave". I run an employment agency for Filipino domestic helpers and every week I hear stories of them living in poor conditions, working long hours, suffering verbal abuse, not receiving enough food. We know one helper who went from 50 to 37 kilos in 6 months. Who am I to tell them "submit to your masters with all respect"?

But these are not my words. They are God's words to us.

1 Peter 2.18-25 
You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

  • Peter is not condoning slavery, nor is he condoning beating of workers who do wrong. That is the world he lived in, and he addresses the issues they faced.  In another letter Paul tells slaves to "get free if you can".
  • Peter's focus in this passage is on suffering. We need a theology of suffering. American Christians like the gospel of wealth, health and happiness, but run from suffering. Suffering is an integral part of Christian discipleship. Jesus and his apostles taught their disciples to expect and embrace suffering. Where is the lesson on suffering in most discipleship materials you buy in the West?
  •  1 Pet 2:24-25 contain some of the NT's richest teaching about the Savior and salvation. This teaching was given in a section of the letter addressed to slaves who often sufered daily at the hands of unjust masters. 
Here is a summary of Peter's instructions to slaves/employees:
  • Submit to your bosses and show respect to them:  "Submit" means to do what they ask you to do. Follow their instructions. "show respect" addresses our attitude. A good servant carries out the wishes of their boss and does so with a good, respectful attitude. 
  • Submitting and showing respect is an act of obedience to God and pleases God. 
  • Suffering for wrongdoing (doing the wrong thing or doing things wrongly) is to be expected. Suffering for doing the right things and doing them rightly is what happened to Jesus, so if it happens to us, we should not complain but trust God who will someday right all wrongs.
  • God calls us to do good, even if it means suffering, so we cannot stop obeying him. Following in the footsteps of Christ will involve suffering. 
  • Jesus' showed us how to suffer: "He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly."
  • Jesus bodily took on our sins on the cross. He physically died for our sins.
  • He died for our sins so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
  • His wounds, his physical dying on the cross heals us. Primarily he is speaking about healing us from the effects of sin, NOT physical healing. In fact, physical healing in a paragraph dedicated to suffering would be somewhat of a contradiction. The death of Christ does includ the eventual healing of all creation including new physical bodies (1Cor 15), but scripture does not promise physical healing in this life and those brothers and sisters who die from cancer, heart disease, etc. are not less spiritual because they didn't as some preachers would say "receive their healing". 
  • The focus of healing here is the healing of our wandering heart and soul. "By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls."
Jesus, Thank you for taking my sin, every bit of it, in your body on the cross. All my filth, my lust, my hate, my brokenness was nailed to the cross, laid on you. And not just my sin, but the sin of billions of people. That must have been far harder to bear than crucifixion. What is crucifixion compared to the blackness of our sin and then God's wrath against that sin? Horrible physical suffering and death, and terrible spiritual death. You endured this so that I could be healed from wandering, from the brokenness of my sin. You are my Shepherd, the Guardian of my soul. "All we like sheep have wandered away", but now my wandering heart has been healed. I am able, even keen to obey. And I have a Shepherd who guards me. Thank you. Honestly, without you, I feel like I will wander away again. I don't want to do that. Guard my heart, guard my soul.   Amen