Whose Freedom

“I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” ― Nelson Mandela

I have been mulling over this statement from the time I heard it as a child with a compassionate and activist heart who couldn’t understand how anyone could justify the dehumanization of another person. Several decades later, I still cannot. On my best days (because not all days are ones in which hope cracks through the darkness) I remind myself that theology calls me to remember, and identify the humanity and divine expression revealed in ALL people, even those who have done great damage to others and the world through their actions. Even they are no less loved and desired by God.

I strongly believe that the Biblical text highlights God’s desire to offer liberation and freedom to all people. Holding to a hope that one day all will be able to live in the Hebrew idea of Shalom, the holistic flourishing of all elements of life. The call of Christ in the Lord’s Prayer, “may thy kingdom come on earth as is it is in heaven” is directly tied to the statements before and after it, “our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name,” and " give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" In all of these statements the holiness, honor, and sustainment of life are found in God and in one's relationships to others as it mirrors God's relationship with us, even those who seek to harm(trespass against) us.  

In the same way, the call of the good Samaritan and the question that prompts that story are also rooted in the idea that honoring God is exemplified in the honoring and care of others. In the good Samaritan, the center of the conversation is the question of "Who is my neighbor?" The neighbor is the one who is most “other.” The sacrilegious apostate who is distant relative is the one who helps and cares for the Jewish man who has been beaten up, helpless, and in need.

Similarly, the Lord’s Prayer is meant to dispel any arrogance and belief in a special righteousness  in the reader. For they are the ones in need. As readers, we are in need of forgiveness for the ways we have trespassed, invaded, violated, exploited, abused, overlooked, and refused to engage with the need of others. We are in need of acts of care like that of the generous godly  Samaritan and Jesus, both whom remind us of our humanity and human connection. The Good News of the Gospel can ring empty and worthless,  when we don't offer the practical care that is needed and choose instead to give spiritual platitudes to those in our culture and community who are being left for dead by the side of the road, ignored in the text and currently by religious communities.

To engage in this way engaging in meeting the immediate needs of others and caring for them as if they are the divine in disguise, because the just might be, may feel uncomfortable and it will definitely make others uncomfortable. Because even in most spiritual communities are we taught to protect ourselves, giving care with in specific parameters and circumstances. So to engage in the lavishness of Christ's good news of love and place for all will be radical. It will be perceived as subversive. Yet, we often forget is how subversive the call of the Gospel actually is for us. It asks us to give beyond reason, to love our enemies, to pray and care for those who persecute us, to seek the blessing of those who have made us slaves and to seek justice. The Gospel asks us to in generosity, care, and love to highlight the violence and harm that is done. And when we are in places of power it calls us to risk to like Esther our own safety for the sake of those who are oppressed by our nation and our leadership. As theologian James Cone says, “The Gospel of liberation is bad news to all oppressors because they have defined their ‘freedom’ in terms of the slavery of others.”

Jessi Knippel