The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold another Jew in bondage. So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any other Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’ Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again. (TNIV)
2 Corinthians 3: 12-18
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (TNIVi)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. (TNIVi)
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann states that evangelism for him consists of “attending to and participating in the transformational drama that is enacted in the biblical text itself.” The text, in turn, is “the articulation of imaginative models of reality in which ‘text-users’ .. are invited to participate.” Evangelism is “doing the text again.”
He suggests that the Bible revolves around 3 focal narratives:
1. promise to ancestors,
2. deliverance from slavery,
3. the gift of land.
Evangelism means inviting people into these stories as the defining story of our lives, and therefore empowering us to give up other dominant stories that have shaped our lives, in false or distorting ways; to tell again the old story, but in ways that impact every aspect of our contemporary life, public and personal.
This deliverance from slavery has many aspects to it. It means deliverance from the slavery of the dominant cultures which demand that we are defined by what we own and by what we do. It means the deliverance of the slavery that we are not good enough and the slavery of self-worth. It means the literal deliverance of slavery where people are bought and sold – trafficked by illegal means.
Today there are 27.5 million slaves in the world and Slave trading is the second biggest illegal trade in the world. It happens in:
• Forced Labour
• Sexual Exploitation
• Domestic Servitude
• Drug Trade
• Child Soldiers
• Street Crime
• Benefit Fraud
• Organ Trafficking
• Forced Marriage
In the Old Testament slavery was a given, it was a part of the cultures and practices of the time. But it evolves. God brings salvation to the people of Israel when he brings them out of slavery. Because of his covenant with them God brings them to a land where they can be free. In Jeremiah 34:8-16 he makes a covenant with them again, that after 6 years anyone selling themselves into slavery must be freed. When they go back on the covenant God gets angry:
But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again “Therefore, this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. Jeremiah 34:16-17 (TNIVi)
By 2 Corinthians Paul is able to state:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (TNIVi)
It was the mission of Jesus to bring humanity to this state of freedom. Not only are we free but we join with Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God in the acts of freeing the world. We have a whole new mindset about who we are and whose we are.
This story offers an imagination into this:
A holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him. An observer came along and said to the holy man, “Don’t you know that’s a scorpion, and it’s in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?” To which the holy man replied, “That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change his?”
The notion of freedom has been in philosophy and theology from the beginning of the recorded thinking of these areas. It has been played with in literature, through stories and films in by some of most profound thinkers. One of the greatest is cleverly crafted is by Dostoevsky in his novel The Brothers Karamazov in the story of The Grand Inquisitor from Book Five: Pro and Contra, of The Brothers Karamazov. Alyosha responds to Ivan, who tells this story to try and disprove God. It’s in a cafe exchange between Ivan and Alyosha, Ivan being the sceptic and Alyosha the believer. Ivan says this: “It is not that I reject your God, Alyosha, I reject his system, his way of doing things.” He then tells the story of the myth of The Grand Inquisitor.
In the myth of The Grand Inquisitor, Jesus, returns to earth in the year 1000 and he returns to Madrid. He wanders down the street. There is a blind man. He heals him. He goes a little further. There is a crippled girl. He heals her. He gets to the cathedral. Coming out of the cathedral is a funeral. They are carrying the corpse of a dead girl. Jesus walks over and raises the girl from the dead. The Cardinal, who is the grand inquisitor, looks down from the entrance of the cathedral and says to his soldiers: “Arrest that man!”
He arrests Jesus and is going to put him to death because he knows who he is.
The next scene is in the cell. Jesus never speaks but the Grand Inquisitor comes to the cells to visit Jesus alone and says: “Why have you come back? It has taken us, the leaders of the church, a thousand years to undo what you did. You came into the world Jesus and Satan showed you the hunger of the world and said: End the hunger! Turn the stones into bread! And you would not do it.” There’s a good question. Why? “If he had turned the stones into bread people would have followed him because he had given them bread, they would not be making the decision freely in love.”
But Jesus was asked by the Grand Inquisitor: “How many people understand this freedom thing. All the starving people in Africa, the little children with their starving bellies, do they understand freedom? Do they understand the existential decision that people must make to be a Christian? Your faith was for a little elite group that understood freedom and how precious it is. Your salvation is for the elite. Our salvation is for the others. Those others who don’t understand freedom, who don’t understand what it is to make a decision. It is all beyond them. They are struggling for survival. Life is too basic for them to get into this lofty stuff. You are concerned about the elite. We are concerned about the others.”
Do you see what is happening in the story. Jesus appears less Christian than the Grand Inquisitor.
The Grand Inquisitor continues, “He took you up to the pinnacle of the temple and told you to jump off and you would have followers. And you wouldn’t do it because you didn’t want people to be dazzled into the faith. You don’t understand how hard life is for people, how oppressive it is, what people need in the midst of their hopelessness. It is the belief that there could be a miracle.”
“That’s why people buy lottery tickets,” he says. “Life is absurd and life is useless but maybe there will be a miracle. You didn’t want to be a God who performed miracles all the time but that is exactly what people need. But what you wouldn’t do, we do every morning at the mass, hocus pocus. We turn bread into flesh and wine into blood and people who never have a miracle have one every day. And that is the basis of their hope.”
“You created freedom for the elite, we pretend to perform miracles for the masses. You are concerned about the few, you even said, ‘Many are called but few are chosen.’ We are concerned about the others.”
And then the last accusation. “You went to the pinnacle of the mountain and Satan showed you all the kingdoms of the earth and said: ‘Bow down and worship me and all these will be yours.’ You could end all the wars which would ever take place if you would just go along with Satan. And you weren’t willing to do it. You don’t understand our church. We are willing to go along with Satan if it means peace. You are concerned about the elite, we are concerned about the others.”
In the story that Ivan tells, Jesus gets up, walks across the cell, kisses the Grand Inquisitor and goes to heaven. And the story is over.
Always we have the idea that Jesus was the good guy and the church has messed it up. What Ivan tries to do in the myth of the Grand Inquisitor is to turn it around. Jesus is the hard hearted bloke and the church is trying to create something compassionate out of the mess that he created.
Then Alyosha comes around to the other side of the table and kisses Ivan like Jesus kissed the Grand Inquisitor. Ivan says: “Brother, you steal my idea and copy it.”
“No, I do not copy it, my brother, the story you have told does honour to Jesus, it does not disgrace him.”
Most people do not understand that. The Grand Inquisitor believes that only the elite are capable of lofty decisions and great commitments. Jesus believes in everybody.
The Grand Inquisitor was an elitist. All of us have the capacity for greatness and the kind of decisions philosophers dream about. The church is the community where we believe that everybody has the capacity to go ‘beyond the norm.’ We believe that when God breathed the breath of life into us God breathed freedom into us.
That freedom is not just for us individually but as we love our neighbour we uphold it for all people and bring it into reality for all humanity. The Grand Inquisitor has a mindset that justifies slavery. It is a mindset that would have power over people, manipulate people, it does not believe that people have the capacity to understand and appreciate freedom. But Jesus does, the Holy Spirit does, the creator God does. It can also become the attitude of the Ivan’s of this world. But the Alyoshas of this world that follow Jesus deem freedom and love to be the motivation and end goal as Jesus mentions in his model Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer) your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Because we are followers of Jesus, because we are the body of Christ, we continue Jesus mission in the world. So Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4 is our mission statement:
The Spirit of the Lord is on us, because he has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (An adaption of Luke 4:18-19 TNIV1)
So what does this call mean? It means we can do something that will join us with others to stop slavery in our lifetime.
• Become aware and educated about the seriousness and extent of slavery
• Only buy chocolate which is Certified to be Trafficked Free (Fair-trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ )
• When we buy clothes or cotton products, ask if cotton from Uzbekistan or any other places that uses slavery in the chain of supply is part of the garment
• Talk about it in our friendship circles, families and with our politicians
• Ask the Australian Government to bring legislation where companies must be able to show that slavery is not a part of the chain of supply
Come let us continue the mission of Jesus, as we seek to abolish slavery, set free those who are oppressed and proclaim freedom for those caught in the imprisonment of human trafficking and proclaim God’s Kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Freedom Sunday sermon by Fuzz Kitto. Fuzz is a youth worker, minister, trainer, speaker, writer and coach.
1 Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, TODAY’S NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 2001, 2005 by Biblica®. Used by permission of Biblica®. All rights reserved worldwide.
2 Walter Brueggemann: Biblical Perspectives on evangelism: living in a three-storied universe, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1993
3 The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1880