Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
What I want to marvel at in today’s text is the way Paul always relates everything back to God. For Paul, everything comes back to Jesus. He tells slaves that the primary relationship in their lives is not to their master but to Jesus, their Master. He tells masters that the primary relationship in their lives is not to their slaves but to Jesus, their Master.
He does not stop there. Because the slave has the same Lord as the master, they are equal. The relationship of slave and master no longer holds legitimacy. In effect, he tells both slave and master to live out the truth in the face of the fiction.
Ivan Illich was once asked, “What is the most revolutionary way to change society? Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?” He gave a careful answer: “Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story” (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church).
Paul advocates for neither violent revolution nor gradual reform. He doesn’t tell an alternative story. He tells an impossible story. He tells a mountain-moving story. He always tells the story of the gospel’the story of Jesus. Freedom in Christ is the story. Slavery is the fiction.
Martin Luther King Jr. chose neither violent revolution nor gradual reform. To a society unmoved by centuries of laws he told the alternative, impossible story of grace’the story of Jesus’the “dream” of on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven. Read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to see the strategy in action.
Like Jesus, they tried to bury him. They had no idea his life would be an unstoppable seed. In the face of impossible situations, we must learn to tell the impossible story.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who being in very nature God, took on the very nature of a slave. He, being free, became a slave, that we who were enslaved could become free. Give us the faith and courage to tell the impossible story of the gospel to the fictions all about us that seem so powerful. Grant us the experience of seeing these fictions fade like a fog in the face of the sun. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What fictions do we choose to empower all around us by our refusal to tell the impossible story of the gospel in their midst?
How do you see the difference between fighting the fiction (or lie) on its own terms and telling the alternative and impossible story of the gospel in the hearing of those who are living in the fiction or lie?
What would it look like today to tell an alternative story in the face of the modern-day crisis of slavery?
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