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CAPTIVE NO MORE?
Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year B
Thanks to the nudging of a good friend I am reading His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope. This gripping book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham is hard to read and … hard to put down.
As I track the chronology of the ongoing civil rights movement, I keep asking myself where was I and what was I doing in the 1960s. That was the period when John Lewis and others, in their early 20s, were feverishly fighting and risking their lives for human rights especially for people who are Black.
The life story of John Lewis is rooted in the Bible. Meacham wrote: “For a youngster of great imagination and quickening faith there could be no more moving saga than the biblical epic of fall and resurrection, of exile and deliverance.” From his youth Lewis felt there was no justification, no reason at all, for Blacks to be held captive by a racist culture. And, he spent his life trying to end the prejudice, the brutality, the slavery.
For some people the fear of being held captive, of suffering and dying, is countered with hope, resilience and a yearning for new life. Many believers find strength in the life story of the Nazarene Jesus, his promises and how he himself rose up from vanquishment. Today’s gospel (John 15:9-17) is comforting. Jesus said: “I no longer call you slaves but friends.” 
One commentary suggests that Jesus wanted to have a relationship with his followers that included honest communication and support, rather than tyrannical dictatorship. Jesus trusted that his disciples will carry on his mission (“if you keep my commandments”) in the same way he honored the vision of the creator God — truthfully, kindly, and without compromise.
In the Acts of the Apostles (10:34) Luke imagines that a mission to the Gentiles will result in social integration rooted in respect for the other. Peter appears to accept this task. He encouraged both Gentiles and Jews to associate with one another: “God shows no partiality” he said. This line underscores the constant message in the second testament that God judges no one.
This is why, in light of the Christian calling to work for justice, it is exasperating that so many people are still held captive in our country and around the world. Those who are oppressed are good people who keep God’s commandments and try to live honest, decent, faithful lives. The slavery they experience comes in many forms. Here are some examples. I am sure you can name other subjugations.
Teenage girls and boys controlled by a sex trafficking industry. Street people hooked on drugs. Americans trapped by the need to consume more goods than they need. Powerless families struggling in totalitarian countries. People stereotyped because of color, age, gender, religion, ethnicity.  Couples mired in abusive relationships. Children and adults subject to slave labor. Members of religious institutions disenfranchised by difficult doctrines. And, to the point of John Lewis’s story, people of color held captive by centuries old cultural chains that deprive them of civil liberties.
Something is wrong in this country when elected politicians use misinformation rather than truth to stay in power; when religious leaders rash judge the members of their own spiritual tribes; when citizens, normally helpful in emergencies, can be self-serving the rest of the time; when extremist groups claim that America was founded to be a powerful, wealthy White only country.
The rise in hate crimes  and other acts of insurrection is a wake-up call for us that this republic, founded on democratic principles and the value systems of diverse faith traditions, is about to be held captive by nativistic prejudices driven by lies, power, wealth, and greed. This is not the freedom from oppression that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died for. This is not what John Lewis and others worked for, risking their lives for equal rights in the United States.
In her study of the second testament, Jin Young Choi wrote that the evangelist John "invites us to see the life Jesus has given to the world in the midst of wounds, pains, and traumas.” We are the ones who are healers and comforters. We are the ones who can release afflicted and exploited and misjudged people from whatever and whoever holds them captive.
1. In some bibles you will find the word “servant” instead of “slave” but linguists agree that the Greek masculine noun δούλος is translated as “slave.”
2. The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) published this statement
3. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups has risen exponentially in the United States since the election in 2016.