Psalm 145:10-14; Luke 13:22-30;Psalm 145:10-14; Luke 13:22-30
Slaves, be obedient to your human masters. (Ephesians 6:5)
That’s an uncomfortable thought! Is Paul really accepting the status quo of institutionalized slavery? That’s certainly how it looks, and it’s possible that he didn’t see slavery as a burning social issue of his day. It was so common that he may not have given it much thought. But whether he knew it or not, Paul’s teaching laid the groundwork for a worldwide abolitionist movement.
You can see this new teaching later in today’s reading, where Paul tells slave owners, “Stop bullying, knowing that … you have a Master in heaven and that with him there is no partiality” (Ephesians 6:9).
Now that is revolutionary! Where most people in Paul’s time considered their slaves as nothing more than property, Paul is saying that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and justice. Just as a slave should show respect for his or her master, so too should the master treat his or her slaves as fellow human beings, not as commodities.
Paul develops this point further in his Letter to Philemon. Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, ran away and arrived at Paul’s doorstep looking for help. While Paul did send Onesimus back to Philemon, he also pleaded that Philemon treat Onesimus as a “brother” and as “beloved” (Philemon 16).
So while Paul didn’t try to overturn the institution of slavery, he did undermine one of its central principles.
It is a tragic fact that slavery, or human trafficking, still exists today. Every year, nearly 800,000 men, women, and children throughout the world are bought and sold into forced labor. From migrant farm workers in North America to sex workers in Africa, from “domestic help” in Europe to involuntary organ donors in Asia, people are being traded like common goods, stripped of all rights and dignity.
It’s true that few of us face this horrible situation directly. But we can still make a difference. We can pray for an end to human trafficking. We can donate to organizations that support victims of slavery. And perhaps most important, we can dedicate ourselves to treating everyone we meet with respect, honor, and dignity.
“Lord, free all those held in slavery. Help me to see ways I can build a culture of love and respect.”~WAU