I came across an article in the Guardian today by Alexander Goldberg that got me thinking a little.
We are just a couple of days away from Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, where we celebrate the Last Supper that Jesus shares with his friends on the former, before his death on the cross on the latter. In the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this meal occurs on the first day of Passover, the Jewish celebration and memorial of the Hebrew liberation from Egypt that we find in the book of Exodus. On this first day of Passover, a sacrificial lamb was offered up to God in thanksgiving for that freedom from slavery. John’s gospel portrays Jesus’ death as taking place on the first day of Passover to more strongly make the theological claim that Jesus himself is the passover lamb, offered up to God. We often talk about Jesus as our passover lamb, and that in his death we are liberated from the slavery of sin, and this is good news.
The Jewish people, however, when they celebrate the Passover, to this day, they are celebrating a liberation from literal slavery, from human beings being owned by others, forced to work for no money. They are celebrating the fact that God has worked in the world in a very tangible way, not only in a spiritual sense. A lot of the time, as Christians, it is easy to become very consumed with the state of our souls in a way that we see them as separate from the physical world, but the reality is that God is not only concerned with freedom for our souls, but also freedom for our bodies, for our lives. And God isn’t only concerned about freedom for Christians, but for all people.
When most of us think of slavery, we think of that being something that existed in the past, but is over now. We think of the civil war and the abolition movement. Certainly, government sanctioned slavery has ended in many places (though not all), but that does not mean illegal slavery does not take place, even here in our country, even here in our state.
Alexander Goldberg, a British Jew who writes for the Guardian (a major British newspaper), challenges those who celebrate Passover to consider those who still are in slavery today as he reminds us that there are millions of slaves around the world right now. He writes:
It is astonishing to think there are 27 million slaves in the world and half of those are children. This is more than at any other time in history. These are not people who are paid unacceptably low wages or are treated harshly at work. These are real slaves: forced to work for nothing and owned by people. While the majority of slaves today can be found in Pakistan, Nepal and India, there are only two countries in the world where there are no known slaves: Iceland and Greenland. That means there is something all of us can do about this in our own towns: for example, there are slaves on the streets of London – mainly in the sex industry. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other community organisations have the power to mobilise thousands into action and work towards eliminating slavery, human-trafficking and child labour.
While he writes from a Jewish perspective, the story of the Exodus is a shared story of liberation and the New Testament writers identify Jesus himself with the freedom given to God’s people on the Passover. Jesus is concerned about more than just souls. He is concerned about people as a whole. He can to free us from sin, which is not just an individual problem, but it is a problem of society. There are individual sins, there are communal sins, and there are institutional sins. If Jesus came to free the world from the slavery of sin, then that means that Jesus came for those who are still in actual, literal slavery today. If we are the Body of Christ, then what are we doing to proclaim this freedom? What are we doing to help bring it about?
Goldberg writes, “Passover has resonance and meaning to contemporary issues and not least of all slavery. To quote the Haggadah written 1,500 years ago: ‘Let those who are needy celebrate the Passover … This year we are slaves – next year may we be free.'”
As we move towards Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions:
Where is there slavery in our country? This will involve some research on our part. Where is the illicit sex trade taking place? Where are other forms of slavery taking place? Do we have slavery right here in our own backyard? Who is enslaved this year, and how can we, as Christians, help them find freedom in the coming year?
Some of this information about the presence of slavery in the world and in our country today might be news to you. It isn’t as obvious as institutional slavery, but it is just as sinful and perhaps even more insidious because it is less visible. The thing that we do know, though, is that God, through his Son Jesus Christ, is redeeming the world, and his promises are meant for all people. How, can we, as people who call ourselves his followers, be faithful witnesses and workers towards this promise?
If you want to read more on this topic about slavery in the world today, check out Free the Slaves for some basic information/statistics and links to other resources.
Another great resource is the book Disposable People by Kevin Bales, which I read in seminary and it really opened up my eyes for the first time to slavery still being a very present force of evil in the world today. It is an excellent and compelling read, and very troubling.
This was not the most coherent of posts, but an important topic that Christians cannot ignore.