Juneteenth (June 19th) is a holiday set aside in the United States to celebrate the emancipation of former slaves. That is, it is a reminder of a time when black slaves were liberated; they were set free.
Slavery has been around for thousands of years. The Jews were slaves in Egypt. The Jews owned slaves in Canaan. And today most of us are aware of the reality of the slave trade that characterizes the sex industry the world over. In fact, if you google "estimated number of slaves in the world today" you will find that the number is over 40 million.
Supposedly 71% of those slaves are female. 25% of the slaves are children. Wikipedia reports that 4.8 million of those slaves endure forced sex exploitation.
It's commonly known and bemoaned that slavery as an institution is found commonly in the Bible and was even regulated by Moses. There is much that could be said about that, and perhaps I will take that on at some point. But for today, let's just admit that it is a thing. Slavery has been a thing for a very long time. And there is no reason to believe that it will be done away with any time in the near future.
So, under that realization, we should indeed celebrate the fact that while there was a time when people of one ethnicity (mostly white) quite literally owned people of another ethnicity (mostly black) in our country (and treated those people as mere property), that time has passed. Vestiges of that bane and blight linger on, but we can find reasons to rejoice in the legal adjustments that have lead to societal adjustments.
When we speak of emancipation, we are really speaking of freedom. And freedom is a priceless treasure.
There are things that are often mistaken for freedom. Peace, safety, comfort, prosperity... to name a few. But those things are NOT freedom. Freedom can indeed bring about those things. Freedom can be enhanced and enjoyed more fully when combined with those things. But freedom is just that: freedom.
Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
Of course, this doesn't mean that restraint is evil. We should all willingly and carefully restrain our own freedom. And of course, your freedom ends where mine begins. Or as I've heard it said, your freedom ends where my nose begins. And mostly we are only talking about freedom from an authoritarian government, not freedom from social pressure, familial hierarchies, or the owners and managers of private businesses.
But freedom is in a way the opposite of a kingdom. A kingdom is a place where the will of the king dominates. Freedom allows for the free individual to follow his or her will. By the way, this is the way God made us originally. God made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden. He told them what they should and shouldn't do, but He also gave them freedom. They had autonomy. They could follow their own prerogotives.
Of course, there are still unavoidable consequences for the choices we make. Choice without consequence is called license. And license to do something that is actually immoral, wrong, and evil is what is called (in the Bible) licentiousness. Only cultures with sound moral principles and strong habits of self-discipline can benefit from freedom. Societies that are rife with immoral indulgence and common habits of self-gratification will only abuse freedom to eat themselves alive.
Freedom is a fragile treasure.
Apparently Adam and Eve only survived in it for a few hours. They surrendered their freedom to Satan. Upon choosing to eat of the forbidden fruit, they became slaves to sin (Romans 6:16). And since then every human of every ethnicity, in every level of society, from every economic section, of every intellectual aptitude; all of us, that is, have needed to be emancipated.
And that's the point of today's written meditation.
Jesus did what was necessary to liberate us legally. That's called justification.
Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 7:21-23, "Are you called being a servant? that's fine: but if you can obtain freedom, embrace that instead. He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: and in the same way also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. You are bought with a price; be not the servants of men."
So of course, we have to accept this freedom. This is sanctification. This is grace.
You can read in American history of former slaves whose lives did not change at all after their emancipation. In fact, you can even find stories of former slaves whose lives became worse. I'll spare you those horrific details, but the harsh truth was recorded plainly enough. That doesn't mean that slavery was better than freedom. What it means is that freedom is difficult to manage. It is rarely obtained and must be strenuously maintained.
So it is in the Christian life. Jesus has liberated us. He has set us free. Yet we may very well find ourselves walking back onto the same plantation and beholding ourselves to the same taskmaster and slavedriver. We may foolishly choose the familiar certainty of our natural flesh over the mysterious unknown of the faith life.
That kind of spiritual servitude comes in 2 varieties.
Some return to the bondage of sin itself. In other words, we can return to the vices, the transgressions, the infractions, the trespasses that formerly characterized our Christ-less existence.
Or, we can submit to the bondage of the law. We can strive with all of our might to be right and to do right in our own strength. This is equally futile, and equally offensive to our Liberator. He set us free to love and to be loved, not to return to the legalism of religion and ritual.
So here is the question for today. Are you relishing the freedom that you have in Christ? Are you living out your emancipation?
Some descendants of former slaves relish their station in life and work nobly to improve their own present, and their own descendants' future. Others are bitter, hostile, defensive, and imprisoned by a complex of sorts that serves only to hold them back and to hold them down. Never-mind the structural social inhibitions that they are forced to struggle against, these people seem to build a glass ceiling over their own heads; a ceiling that is oppressive, suppressive, and regressive.
Who am I that criticizes? I am nothing and nobody. I've got no great authority or experience that makes me an expert or a counselor. But I see it. I can observe with own eyes. And I bemoan the loss. But even more so, I see the correlation with all people as we navigate the spiritual realm of living out the gospel. May we all learn to accept and embrace the true freedom that we have in Christ! In doing so we will contribute significantly to the emancipation of other souls.