Today’s Scripture Readings
These are not warm fuzzy readings today. These are in-your-face readings. Which means we should probably really pay attention. There are two images that stand out for me. Neither of which I like very much. First, in Ephesians, the author is talking about slaves and masters. Second, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is saying we should work to enter through the narrow gate. Together however they have something we need to hear. Whether we like it or not.
The problem with slaves and masters is that we have finally rejected this arrangement as a society so talking about it in any way other than condemnation sets off emotional and mental resistance. However, translations can make a huge difference. So here is the New Jerusalem Bible version of this slave/master section of Ephesians:
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are, according to human reckoning, your masters, with deep respect and sincere loyalty, as you are obedient to Christ: not only when you are under their eye, as if you had only to please human beings, but as slaves of Christ who wholeheartedly do the will of God. Work willingly for the sake of the Lord and not for the sake of human beings. Never forget that everyone, whether a slave or a free man, will be rewarded by the Lord for whatever work he has done well. And those of you who are employers, treat your slaves in the same spirit; do without threats, and never forget that they and you have the same Master in heaven and there is no favoritism with him.”
I find this slightly easier to read and it helps get us to why I think this matches with the narrow gate idea and can help us face its demands. This passage doesn’t condemn slavery any more than the New American translation but it more clearly demonstrates that the author was upending the slave/master relationship. The text is making slave and master equal before God. Which interestingly puts both the slave and the master under the demand to use that narrow gate. This passage expects both slave and master to act out of a different set of standards, God’s standards. No more threats from the master. Slaves are to work willingly. Because both are under obligations to God that are bigger than their current human relationship. That is one heck of a narrow gate. It is suggestive of the jarringly discontinuous reality Jesus asks us to enter. It is possible this is a bigger challenge than social change. How could people be generous and loving in an inherently unequal slave/master situation? It makes no sense. Yet I think this is the kind of monumental challenge we are asked to confront. The author asks slaves not just to be obedient but act with deep respect and sincere loyalty and then tells masters to do the same thing. This behavior goes way beyond dropping threats as a management tool.
We don’t have institutional slavery today. However, these readings suggest that we must live in a loving, caring, generous way even when our human structures and relationships are tearing us apart. That’s a crazy narrow gate. That’s more than just not going along with what everybody else is doing or saying. It means more than serving on a committee or giving to charity. I think it means looking at people, situations and life goals in a totally different way. A way so different that Luke, like Mark and Matthew, repeats Jesus’ observation that, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” It is a total reversal. Are we capable of totally reversing how we think, how we feel, how we operate each day mostly when we aren’t really thinking about it? You know, the run of the mill daily interactions and relationships we take for granted. We can’t do that anymore if we are to change ourselves. We have to change what’s inside, no matter what circumstances, people or situations challenge us. Knowing it’s going to be hard, that it means choosing the narrow gate, maybe we’ll be in a better position to succeed, actually making the tough choice and coming out that narrow gate doing what builds a land flowing with milk and honey. Where everyone’s not only equal but loved, cared for and having a really great time.