Friday, April 6, 2012

The Bitter Herbs of Bondage

Tonight is both Good Friday and the night of the Passover Seder.  Both are days in which we remember the bitter herbs of bondage, of slavery.  What can we learn about our own bondage by remembering the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt?  I suggest the question “what is bondage,” is a question each person must examine and discern for themselves.  Sometimes slavery is easily discernable, and sometimes it is not.
The Passover Haggadah – the Last Supper that Jesus served to his Disciples – recalls the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt:
Maror:  Why do we eat this bitter herb?  Because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our fathers in Egypt, as it is written:  "They made their lives bitter with hard work, with mortar and bricks, and with all kinds of labor in the field; whatever work tasks they performed were backbreaking."  In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt, as it is written: "You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that the lord did for me when I left Egypt."  . . .

Therefore it is our duty to thank to laud, to praise, to glorify, to exalt, to adore, to bless, to elevate and to honor the One who did all these miracles for our fathers and for us.  He took us from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to festivity, and from deep darkness to great light, and from bondage to redemption.  Let us therefore recite before Him Halleluyah -- Praise God!
Bondage can be both literal and figurative. A prisoner behind bars may feel he is in bondage due to the jailor.  But perhaps the physical bars are not the cause of the bondage.  What if the ailment that landed the prisoner in prison was something else?  What if, for example, a robbery was the result of a drug addiction?  Is the bondage the prison, or is the bondage, in fact, the addiction?

I urge that bondage to ideas, needs, and desires can be a slavery more profound, and dehumanizing, than bondage behind bars.          
Other times, the bondage comes from forces within society. Forces of injustice.        

Relief from bondage involves a continuous process of discerning what we are in bondage to, and disrupting those chains.

A news account on NPR this morning reported that, due to state budget cuts to public universities, some students in California are not able to get into classes they need to graduate.  Santa Monica College has proposed to address this problem by offering additional classes or sections which are not supported by state subsidies.  Students who were desperate for their courses could thus finish degree requirements on time.  (See story HERE.)  The criticism of this solution is that it would create a two-tiered system.  The “haves” and the “have nots.” 

Is this not what we already have in the USA, to some degree?  Rich people can already afford health care, education, cars, homes.  Poor people can’t.  The gap between the haves and have-nots is the widest it has been since before the Great Depression.  Is the two-tiered system a form of bondage? 

An honestly conceived, Biblical view of economic justice and equality has always been somewhat subversive.  In another Good Friday blog post by a different writer, Brian Terrell, compares the Roman Empire and the U.S. Empire, claiming:
Jesus called for a jubilee abolition of debt, for redistribution of wealth and for freedom to those in prison. His nonviolent stance did not keep him from meeting in dialogue with the zealots who advocated violent revolution.  This would be all the evidence the U.S. Empire needs to detain an “enemy combatant” indefinitely at Guantanamo or indeed, to put him on a CIA hit list.
Liberation from bondage, in one sense, is always threatening to the oppressor.  It shakes the order of things, raises risks.  On the other hand, the two tiered system is also oppressive to the oppressor.  He just doesn’t realize it.  The wealthy feel compelled to build walls and hire guards to protect themselves.  They always fear social unrest. 

I took these photographs at the ruins of a former home of a wealthy “Landlord” who was among the ruling elite prior to the Chinese Revolution.  The home originally housed a large extended family consisting of several sons and their wives and children.  The remaining structure is now occupied, more or less, by long term squatters.  The original inhabitants fled for their lives after bribing some guards to smuggle them safely outside the walled compound. 


Not every day, but sometimes, we should taste the bitter herbs, to remind ourselves of the bitter taste of bondage.  Just as we can become accustomed to too much salt in our food, we can also become accustomed to the taste of bondage, so that we no longer notice it. 

What sources of slavery are there that we can examine in our own lives, on this Good Friday, the day of Passover, the darkest night when we contemplate our own servitude and our own liberation from bondage? 

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