One of the powerful images the Scriptures have for our relationship with both the world and our Lord is that of the slave. And although being a slave meant something different in the time in which the Bible was written (indeed, it meant something different even in the Old Testament than it did in the New), there are some ideas that we must still pay keen attention to.
For example, what should we say of our freedom, given the image of our slavery?
The other night, I was thinking about the slave auctions that used to take place in America and other regions around the world. I was thinking about what it must be like to be paraded in front of a wealthy audience, to look around and see all eyes looking at you, to be bound by chains in front of the very men who could buy your services...or your freedom.
I was thinking about what it must be like to see Jesus looking back at you, to know that out of all the men, this one Man is the one who you know would set you free. We know that, don't we? Out of all of the options in all the world, there is one house where we are no longer destined to be slaved. This Guy has a reputation. We've heard about all the slaves He's freed. Now, here we stand, looking into His eyes; He's looking into ours. We both know...this is our one best shot. This is our only shot. This is our one hope.
I was thinking about what it must be like to hear Jesus raise His voice, to speak above the crowd on our own behalf. I was thinking about what it might be like to be standing there, hearing all these potential buyers bid on the chance to have me, Jesus faithfully upping the bid with every breath. And not by just a little bit. Jesus is not content to pay just one penny more than the world is offering; He really raises the stakes. Whatever the world offers for you, Jesus raises ten-fold, twenty-fold, a thousand-fold. He increases your price, raises your worth until in the world's eyes, you're just not worth it any more.
Now here's where many of us would start to wonder. Here's where it's easy to get full of ourselves. The world doesn't give up easily, but it's also no fool. For what seems like forever, our price goes up and up - a penny here, a dollar there, until we're into some pretty high numbers and then, one by one, the voices start falling off. Bidders starts to lose interest. Eventually we get down to just two who remain interested, and it's kind of a let down. A little bit, anyway. We go from hearing a hundred different voices to hearing just two, and we start to wonder why we're not worth it any more. We start to wonder why no one's still interested. We start to wonder how much longer these two will keep going, whether we're almost not worth it any more even to them.
And then, inevitably, one wins. He outbids even His final opponent, and it is then that we realize that what we have heard about Him is true. We realize because the auctioneer has come with an awl and pierced not the slave, but the new Master. He has driven this metal through our purchaser, rather than through our own ear. The sign of who we belong to is marked on the Bidder and we...we, the slave, know that our freedom is just around the corner. That in the space of just one breath, that as soon as we can hear Him speak, this Man - this Man who so raised the value of this slave - will set us free.
It's a powerful moment, a vivid image. Of that, there is no question. But what happens next is truly heartbreaking.
Because as I was thinking about all this, as this scene was playing out in both my heart and my mind, I thought about how content we are to step down off this auction block, to know the One who bought us with His very blood, and to go back to the barracks. To go back to the corrals. To go back to the holding pen, waiting on the auction to be over. Waiting on the others to be sold. Waiting on our Master to come and claim us. As though that is not what He has just done. As though we are not really His until He comes to open the gate.
I thought about how convinced we are that this is the way that things have to be, that things ought to be. That this is the plan. That we, who have been granted our freedom at the highest price, are so willing to go back into our chains and our waiting. I thought about how we have been herded into the corners of the world, out of the arenas and into the holds. Smiling, because we know we are free; living as though we are anything but.
It's tragedy at its finest. It's worse than the human atrocity of the auction block, for here, we are bought but forgotten. Here, we can only faintly hear His voice as He bids the same for another and another and another. And here, we live in happy union with those who sold for the same price, with the other slaves who know Who bought them.
We high five and shake hands and greet each other with joy. It's great, isn't it? We're free.
We're free, we say, our chains rattling against the bars....