St Luke 17: 1 – 10 Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple[b] sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’
Reflection: Slaves no more? In recent months, much of my work has focused on the URC’s engagement with the Legacies of (transatlantic) Slavery, considering issues of enduring racism and structural inequalities – in the world, in society, and in the Church. We don’t like to admit it – and sometimes it is easier to turn away – but that does not change the truth. Reading today’s text hits an unpleasant chord, with its reference to what is expected of the slave. Who would expect the slave to do anything other than what they are instructed by their master? And who would do the hard graft themselves if they had a slave to do it for them? Turning that around, which slave would come in from their outdoor toils expecting to relax at the table, excused from their household labours? Everyone knew and understood the roles of both master and slave.
And so, my mind turns to our world today. Transatlantic slavery is no more, but I think of the structural inequalities which continue – an unspoken ‘way of being’ which frequently sees Black people at the bottom of the pile in respect of jobs, pay, housing and educational achievement. I think of health inequalities, and the ways in which Black people fall foul of our criminal justice systems. I consider our world, divided into rich (predominantly white) nations, and poor (predominantly Black) nations – and recognise this is no ‘act of God’, but the legacies of transatlantic slavery, colonialism, and empire. The situation has prevailed for so long, is so entrenched, that many of us never think to question it, let alone challenge it. Both white people and Black people have been conditioned to ‘know our place’, and the presumed places others should occupy.
In November 2020 the URC committed itself to a journey from ‘not racist’ to actively anti-racist, to recognise and dismantle the status quo until there is truly neither slave nor free. Maybe then we can all take our rightful place, side-by-side, at a wonderful bring-and-share table.
Prayer God, I know you are not colour blind. Help us to see colour too.
I know you don’t birth some to be slaves And others to be masters.
It cannot please you for dark skins to remain at the mercy of unjust systems while lighter skins are cushioned, held in greater esteem.
Shake us up, Spin us round, Remind us – You are the God of justice, dignity, And most of all, love – And you call us to live in your ways.
Karen Campbell, URC Secretary for Global & Intercultural Ministries.