A few months ago I went with some friends to see the movie, “The Help.” It was one of the best movies I’ve watched in a long time. I laughed, I cried, I was so mad I could have punched someone all in five minutes. This emotional roller coaster of a movie is set in Jackson, MS during the 60s and showcases the hardships that the Help (maids and groundsmen) faced in the rural south. Though black men and women were free at this point, you see the prejudice that still lingered cause by generations of southern slave owners.
A few weeks ago, I began the Prison Epistles course and starting reading the letters Paul wrote to the church during his imprisonment. As timely manner would have it, the Help came out on video and I watched it again. The issue of prejudice and slavery was heavy on my mind as I started reading of another slave, Onesimus. Onesimus was the slave of a man called Philemon. During this ancient culture the Romans started the tradition of owning slaves and slaves were very important assets to society. They were what kept everything running smoothly on an estate and Philemon no doubt depended greatly on Onesimus. Philemon as you might have guessed is the letter that Paul wrote to Philemon in regards to Onesimus. It seems that Onesimus stole some valuable items from Philemon and ran away. In this time and culture, that was a serious offense. Not only was Onesimus a run-away slave, he was a thief and punishable by beatings, imprisonment, and even death. We’re not sure how Onesimus came in contact with Paul but we know that he did and converted. Paul then tells Onesimus that he should return to Philemon and ask for forgiveness. Paul sends the letter with Onesimus to Philemon on his behalf, requesting Philemon to be merciful and even release Onesimus.
What Paul was asking Philemon to do was unheard of, crazy. Yet, Paul reminded Philemon that under Christ we are all equal, doomed to die and be punished for our sins were it not for the grace and mercy Christ shows each of us.
See Paul was an advocate for equality, not just socially slaves vs. masters but between husbands/wives, parents/children, and even Jews/Gentiles. Paul was knows as the apostle to the Gentiles. The Jews of the time were against the Gentiles being grafted into God’s plan of salvation. They were God’s chosen and yet God still made a way that Gentiles could be grafted into the plan. Paul sought to make that fact known and to encourage love between the two despite any differences.
Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Prejudice lives today. Sure we are hopefully far beyond the naivety of the 60’s; but, it still exists. It just lives in different forms. We hold ourselves higher than others for many reasons, maybe it’s racial, or by gender. Perhaps, it’s class or social standing. Who has the coolest toys or even who goes to church the most and bakes the best potato salad. Prejudice lives in many fashions. Yet grace, it’s a funny thing. It cancels all the factors out.
During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what belief, if any, was unique to Christianity. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace” (Yancey 1997, 11). *
Through God’s eyes all are equal, that means nothing you do will make you better or more righteous before God. We’re kind of a bunch of sorry folks. Yet God in his love for us extended mercy. It’s a unique quality in the religious realm as most religions stress some rigourous work or ritual to obtain sacred goodness. God saw us right where we were and knew we were without.
Pride can’t compete with grace, it can’t thrive where grace abounds because grace is humble. Pride takes on the notion that it needs nothing or no one to survive, yet a person receiving grace knows that they got what they didn’t deserve and that they couldn’t have obtained it on their own. Pride and prejudice are lovers (it’s a movie in case you didn’t know). They walk hand in hand and snub out the rest. Grace means that I can’t hold myself higher than anyone. I’m just as low as you.
It’s something that rings through after watching the Help numerous times. It took a person removing the prejudice of the era, to go against her friends’ ideas to reach out and stand up for what was right. To go into someone of a different race’ home when it was illegal to and sit on a person’s couch and be her friend. It’s what Christ did for us. He knew were where helpless, he knew we were doomed and loved us yet. We were given freedom through his humbling.
*Story from Global University, Berean School of the Bible, Prison Epistles