Tag Archives: Slave

Broken Relationships; Divine Purpose

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Philemon 1:15-16 (NIV)

If you’re not a regular reader, please know that I’ve been reading and blogging through the letters of Paul in the chronological order they were likely written. In my last post, Seasonal Companions, I wrote about the conflict and reconciliation between Paul and John Mark. But that isn’t the only story of reconciliation hiding in the back stories of the personal greetings found at the end of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Colossae. Paul writes:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

Onesimus was a runaway slave from Colossae who was owned by one of the believers there named Philemon, a friend of Paul. We don’t know all of the facts of the story. What we do know is that Onesimus seems to have stolen from Philemon and fled. In what I’d like to think was a divine appointment, Onesimus ends up running into Paul in Rome and he becomes a follower of Jesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Colossae to make things right with the master from whom he stole and fled. Onesimus is carrying with him Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which we just finished reading. Onesimus is also carrying a letter to Philemon, which is today’s chapter. (Paul’s letter to Philemon became the shortest book in the Bible, FYI.)

Paul’s letter to Philemon is brief, but warm-hearted in its appeal to Philemon to be reconciled with Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to consider sending Onesimus back to help Paul while he is in prison. Paul urges Philemon to see how God used Onesimus’ offenses to bring about His divine purposes. Onesimus left Philemon a runaway thief, but Onesimus is returning as a brother in Christ trying to make things right.

In the quiet this morning the theme of my thoughts continues to swirl around lost and broken relationships. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a good reminder that sometimes a season of relationship ends because one or both parties need the separation in order to learn, experience, and grow so that a new season of deeper and more intimate relationship can come back around.

I find myself, once again, thinking on the words of the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes. There is a time and a season for everything. That includes a time for conflict, and a time for reconciliation. There is a time to make amends, and a time to forgive. Sometimes the time in between is just a moment. Other times it takes many years. Along the journey, I’ve come to embrace the reality of, and necessity for, both, along with the wisdom necessary to discern which is which.

The Dark Turn Towards Vengeance

"Vengeance" by jbelluch via Flickr
“Vengeance” by jbelluch via Flickr

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:7-8 (NIV)

Years ago I found myself the victim of another person. I wasn’t wronged in any tangible way, mind you. It was more of the personal affront in which a person of authority demeans and diminishes  another person because he or she has the power to do so. I was hurt and my hurt became anger. Sometime later, while still seething with anger, I found myself in a unique position to wreak vengeance on the perpetrator and make this person’s life extremely uncomfortable. I had a choice to make.

The psalms are song lyrics and they express the breadth of human emotions. Today’s psalm was written in extreme circumstances that we can scarcely imagine today. Around 600 B.C. the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Eventually, they destroyed the city, razed the walls, tore down the temple of Solomon, plundered the city, and returned to Babylon taking all of the best and brightest young people as their slaves (fyi: the prophet Daniel was one of them).

The writer of today’s psalm was one of the slaves living in Babylonian captivity. The lyricist had survived the siege during which, according to Jeremiah in his song of Lamentation, the residents of Jerusalem were reduced to cannibalism to survive. Perhaps the song writer had been forced to eat the flesh of his family or friends to survive. Certainly the song writer had seen his hometown and all he held dear destroyed. He had likely seen friends, family and neighbors senselessly slaughtered in sadistic ways. Then he had been forcibly taken from family to live life as the slave of those who destroyed their family and home.

With psalm 137, the writer is feeling more than just the blues. His pain was coming out in anger. I get that. My pain of being victimized is nothing compared to what the writer of this song went through, but yet the human reaction is the same. Pain turns to anger, but once anger is realized the path leads to a fork in the road. We have a choice. We can sit endlessly in the anger as it endlessly gnaws away our spirit, we can choose the path of forgiveness, or we can choose the path of vengeance. Our psalmist is struggling with feelings of vengeance and he pours them out in his musical prayer. I like to think that writing a song about it was probably a healthy outlet for his feelings.

As for me, I chose not to pursue vengeance on my perpetrator. The thoughts of revenge were sweet, but in the long run I believe it would have damaged me spiritually more than any pain and discomfort it would have inflicted on my perpetrator. Like the psalmist I expressed my anger and desire for vengeance to God and I vented with a safe cadre of loved ones. Then, I let it go. I chose to forgive and gave up any “right” I felt for revenge.

Anger and the desire for vengeance are real emotions. They need to be explored and expressed in healthy ways. Finding a creative outlet like the psalmist can be an important part of that process. The path of vengeance carries with it deep spiritual consequences. When anger makes the dark turn toward vengeance victims risk critical damage to their own souls.

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Chapter-a-Day 2 Peter 2

Poster by Mat Kelly

They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. 2 Peter 2:19 (NLT)

This past Saturday night, Wendy and I went to see a new play performed at Central College. Dead Man’s Curve was adapted from the book Yellow Cab by Robert Leonard. Leonard, a former professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, shares his experiences of driving a Yellow Cab during the graveyard shift in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Through the play we are introduced to a wide variety of very real people with whom Mr. Leonard rubbed shoulders. He calls them “invisible people.” It was a fascinating ride. Days later, Wendy and I find ourselves continuing to talk about the people and stories to which we were exposed.

I thought about some of those people this morning as I read the chapter and particularly the verse above. Indeed, despite the promise of freedom, we are all slaves to those things which control us. It’s too easy to draw a dotted line from this truth to the common addictions of sex, drugs and alcohol. The more insidious truth I’ve come to believe is that there are far more people enslaved each day by socially acceptable appetites out of control like pride, hunger, control, greed, materialism, and even religiosity. Legalistic religiosity is simply the gluttonous indulgence of the human appetite for power and control. It is just the point Peter was trying to make in today’s chapter. That which promises freedom only creates a different version of slavery.

As we watched the play I was struck by the number of times drivers, who each had their own set of troubles and issues, acted out of love and compassion both for the needy and the foolish humans who happened into the backseat of their cab. Modern day Samaritans providing random acts of grace and kindness, often to those who didn’t really deserve it. Those acts of love are examples of the very essence of Jesus’ entire message. Freedom does not flow out of a license to do whatever we want, nor out of religious adherence to lists of rules meant to keep us away from doing what we shouldn’t. Freedom, Jesus said, flows out of the truth embodied when we obey the law of love He taught: To love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; To love our neighbor as we love ourselves.