June 4th, 2002
Received by H.
My dear brother:
Many days have already passed without any opportunity for me to deliver a message. I hope your condition will improve and become stable. I still have much to communicate.
In my last message I said that I would speak on how Jesus expressed himself on slavery, and why those teachings were not integrated into the gospels.
Some time ago, I wrote:
“In the following evening, Buni, accompanied by several servants who served as his bodyguards, came to Joseph’s house in order to speak with Jesus.”
It is true, this is the message which I presented on the meeting of Nicodemus and Jesus. Remember this sentence.
I have also written that on many occasions that the poor peasants sold themselves as slaves to the great landowners.
Now, when you in the modern world hear the word “slave,” you think of the images presented in the historical movies on the Roman Empire, where enormous armies of slaves worked and died in the construction of the big public buildings, in the galleys, in the sulfur mines of Sicily, etc.
Partly that image is correct, because the Roman Empire acquired immense quantities of prisoners of war during its campaigns of expansion, and used them for these ends. However, apart from this unhappy group of people who lived under inhuman conditions, there was another class of slaves, who worked in the houses of the rich patricians of the city, and on the large landed properties. They had a better life, and many of them were even able to save money and to buy their freedom, since their owners often allowed them to establish separately their own small businesses. I need not mention the class of slaves that dedicated themselves to the education of the children of the rich Roman citizens, Greek slaves of high culture, philosophers and poets. It is obvious, then, that slavery was a social institution with many facets, and the only thing these facets had in common was the lack of personal freedom. Even that lack of freedom was something that was very relative.
However, in the Palestine of Jesus’ time, things were very different. Slavery did not exist in such a widespread form as in Rome, neither had it existed in this form in ancient Greece.
The price of a slave in the markets of Jerusalem fluctuated by very wide margins, of course, depending on capacity, age, physical strength, or a slave’s education. But for a worker who would work in the fields, not more than thirty to a hundred denarii were paid. And considering that a hired peasant received approximately one denarius per day, it turns out to be a very low price, equivalent to the wage of a peasant for one to three months. But this one denarius per day hardly sufficed to feed and dress the poor man. And the rich landowner also had to feed and dress his slaves, which almost cost him the same as paying for a free peasant. Therefore, it was much more popular to hire landless peasants for working in the fields of the rich people than to buy slaves.
As an “added difficulty” for the rich folk, the Mosaic Law prescribed that they had to set free their slaves after seven years of servitude.
“If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing,”
determines the Book of Exodus. They certainly did not consider slavery a good business.
The slaves who worked in the urban houses of the rich class, as in the case of Nicodemus, often maintained their own family, they had wives and children. When the seven years of servitude finished, the slaves would sometimes abandon their master together with their wives.
Says the Law:
“If he come in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he be married, then his wife shall go out with him.
If his master give him a wife, and she bear him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.”
That, of course, constituted in many cases a serious situation for the slave who loved his family and did not want to abandon them. And he had no money to buy their freedom. Nevertheless, the Law offered him the following alternative:
“But if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto God, and shall bring him to the door, or unto the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.”
With this desperate act, the poor slave could keep his family, but he lost his freedom forever.
On the other hand, when the master saw such loyalty, to him or to the slave’s family, he recognized this man’s great value. The administrators of the large landed properties, the personal secretaries, the bodyguards, they all used to be recruited from the lines of those men with perforated ears.
Similar scenes like that of Nicodemus’ visit happened frequently. And Jesus always called this our attention:
“Look, there comes the rich master with the people in whom he trusts. They are not men of his class, whom he calls friends, because actually, he does not trust them. They are not hired people, because their loyalty only goes as far as the master’s money reaches. No, they are his servants, those with perforated ears, who have given themselves voluntarily because of love. Although the master may not be aware of this, but deep inside his heart he knows that people motivated by love are noble people, the only ones worthy of his trust. And those are the ones who he recompenses.
And so also our Father in Heaven acts. Those who give themselves unreservedly and voluntarily, to them He gives His Blessings. And even more, He adopts them as His true children and the heirs of His Kingdom.”
Yes, I know you hoped to hear that Jesus had attacked slavery frontally. But that never happened. Firstly, it did not exist in Palestine in the form that you have in mind. Secondly, slavery was an accepted institution and regulated by the Mosaic Law, considered the selfsame word of the Lord. However, Jesus’ teaching, the teaching of unconditional love, implicitly disqualified slavery as incompatible with the way to God.
The Master’s hard social criticism can only be found rudimentarily in the Bible, because those Christian leaders who felt uncomfortably alluded to by it erased much of what he had said. However, in the letter of the Master’s brother you can still hear the echo of the selfsame Master’s voice. (James 2:2-10 is not exactly what follows.)
“Suppose one man comes into your meeting well-dressed and with a gold ring on his finger, and another man, obviously poor, arrives in shabby clothes. If you pay special attention to the well-dressed man by saying, “Please sit here — it’s an excellent seat,” and say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or if you must sit, sit on the floor by my feet,” doesn’t that prove that you are making class-distinctions in your mind, and setting yourselves up to assess a man’s quality from wrong motives?
For do notice, my dear brothers, that God chose poor men, whose only wealth was their faith, and made them heirs to the kingdom promised to those who love him. And if you behave as I have suggested, it is the poor man that you are insulting. Look around you. Isn’t it the rich who are always trying to rule your lives, isn’t it the rich who drag you into litigation? Isn’t it usually the rich who blaspheme the glorious name by which you are known?
If you obey the royal Law, expressed by the scriptures, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” all is well. But once you allow any invidious distinctions to creep in, you are sinning, you stand condemned by that Law. Remember that a man who keeps the whole Law but for a single exception is none-the-less a law-breaker.”
This is a very fine point that we will discuss on another occasion.
“The one who said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ also said, ‘Thou shalt do no murder.’ If you were to keep clear of adultery but were to murder a man you would have become a breaker of the whole Law.
Anyway, you should speak and act as men who will be judged by the law of freedom. The man who makes no allowances for others will find none made for him. Mercy may laugh in the face of judgment.
Now what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he “has faith” if his actions do not correspond with it? Could that sort of faith save anyone’s soul? If a fellow man or woman has no clothes to wear and nothing to eat, and one of you says “Good luck to you I hope you’ll keep warm and find enough to eat,” and yet gives them nothing to meet their physical needs, what on earth is the good of that?
Yet that is exactly what a bare faith without a corresponding life is like — quite dead.
A man could challenge us by saying, “You have faith and I have merely good actions. Well, all you can do is to show me a faith without corresponding actions, but I can show you by my actions that I have faith as well.” So you believe that there is one God? That’s fine. So do all the devils in hell, and shudder in terror! For, my dear shortsighted man, can’t you see far enough to realize that faith without the right actions is dead and useless?”
And because of this statement, this letter was almost expelled from the canon of the Protestants who proclaim “justification through faith.”
Jesus did not call people to retire from this world, but to help actively, to dedicatedly work for improving the situation in this world, your world. It is a call to all, so that they shall make an effort to create a world where it is worthwhile living for each and everyone.
This is all for today. I say good-bye with my blessings.
Your brother in Christ,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013