bible blog 279

This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:1-9

1 Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord — that is what uprightness demands. 2 The first commandment that has a promise attached to it is: Honour your father and your mother, 3 and the promise is: so that you may have long life and prosper in the land. 4 And parents, never drive your children to resentment but bring them up with correction and advice inspired by the Lord. 5 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: 6 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. 7 Work willingly for the sake of the Lord and not for the sake of human beings. 8 Never forget that everyone, whether a slave or a free man, will be rewarded by the Lord for whatever work he has done well.

9 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 favouritism with him.

Lincoln prepares to cut down the tree of slavery

As with the teaching about men and women in yesterday’s passage, we should be shocked by the writer’s acceptance of injustice in today’s passage. The morality expressed here is thought to be conventionally decent for its time and place, albeit with some attention to slaves, because there were many slaves in Christian churches. It is some distance from the radical views on the family expressed by Jesus. Slavery was practised in almost all societies of the time. You could be born a slave or become one through being bankrupt or captured in war. Much of the physical and quite a bit of the intellectual, labour of ancient societies was done by slaves. Slaves depended on their masters for food and shelter. Life without slavery was inconceivable to almost all people. The early Christian churches welcomed slaves and treated them as equals within the church community without altering their status in the world. Some Christians liberated their slaves, but so did many other owners. Paul’s letter to Philemon delicately suggests that he should treat a slave as he would treat Christ and his Apostle, but it does not make any general points about slavery.

How should we understand this scripture? It gives some dignity to slaves by telling them to serve Christ in their service of their masters, and by reminding masters that earthly distinctions do not hold in heaven. Nevertheless I still regard this advice as a failure of Christian imagination at the time it was written and as simply wrong today. Its influence has been malign as of course it was quoted often by those who opposed the emancipation of slaves. God’s spirit has enlightened us, through atheist agitators as well as Christian prophets, to see that slavery is abhorrent.

If we are to use this material as authoritative for believers, we must interpret it as a terrible warning against assuming contemporary moral assumptions are right.

Gospel, Luke 13:22-30

22 Through towns and villages he went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem.

23 Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’ He said to them,

24 ‘Try your hardest to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.

25 ‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself standing outside knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.”

26 Then you will start saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets,”

27 but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from; away from me, all evil doers!”

28 ‘Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrown out. 29 And people from east and west, from north and south, will come and sit down at the feast in the kingdom of God.

30 ‘Look, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’

The narrow door is a warning about the cost of discipleship. Those who want to be ruled by God (that is, to enter God’s kingdom), will find that they can’t get in encumbered by huge houses, vast cars, large bank balances and expensive life-styles,  with casual broad-mindedness or with big heads puffed up by the assurance of salvation. Jesus made sure people knew the door was open to all, that’s why he ate and drank with anyone, but they had to choose his way for themselves. He showed warm friendship to Zacchaeus, but salvation arrived when the tax-collector gave back his dishonest gains.

The door’ s always open but there’s never a big rush.

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