“God spoke all these words” (Ex. 20:1). The subject? God spoke all these words. The verb? God spoke all these words. The object? God spoke all these words. This is slow, of course, but we’re being careful, and care will lead to the road less traveled. While there is a natural homiletic pull toward the enduring words of the Decalogue, even the Decalogue (as we look at all these words) will trouble and disturb.
God spoke: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). God sets the people free. God spoke: “you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). God will not have the people enslaved to idolatries that would bind their hearts to empty promises, false hopes, and death itself. God speaks, commending the Sabbath rest: “The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave” (Ex. 20:10). For freedom not all have been set free. The slave may rest one day of the week, but the slave lives in the house of slavery every moment of every week.
Is this a Word of the Lord? The Bible tells me so. So the Bible troubles, and trouble is the hermeneutic task. It’s not a question of trying to escape a trap, but of feeling and facing the problem. And because slavery is a strong Christian metaphor, the question must be confronted. St. Paul opens his great Epistle to the Romans, introducing himself in these words: “I Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” The metaphor, no doubt, had special poignancy because the institution was yet alive and well. In many ways, it still is.
Does God sanction slavery? Many theologians have said yes. We have moved on from those days, but not far. The great comedian Paul Mooney often corrects cantankerous white people who say, “That was 400 years ago. Get over it.” Mooney quips, “Two grandmothers ago, you could have owned me, us!” It’s awful, terrible, disturbing: human depravity on display.
The Bible is open, but I see through a glass dimly. Who am I to interpret the Bible? When Christ called me, he put scales to my eyes. He told me, “You don’t know anything.” Then, by his sovereign and compassionate command, he said, “Be opened.” Scales fell and yet my vision was unclear. I saw trees walking. Then a translucent and radiant Jesus stood before me, close to me, so close I could see the world only through him. There I saw, in all its complex beauty, one new humanity. I no longer heard the word of the Lord; I looked through it.
I could see that for freedom Christ set us free. If there is something human he has not assumed, he has not saved it. And if he leaves a mere fragment behind, is all lost? O Jesus, you have told me. On the cross, the icon of scandal and folly, the power of God was at work in your death. Who died? Who died when the temple of your body fell? The old human being — deviant and cruel — was fixed to the cross with Christ, and with the voice of our humanity Christ cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Gal. 2:20 and Augustine’s commentary on Ps. 140:4-6). In Christ, the sick me is dead!
Let the old Adam go. Let freedom be and work in the one Christ whose blood is a torrent of love.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 19:3.
Think About It
You died with Christ. Now live with him in your new humanity.