Every now and then, a word from the Bible jumps out at me. Having never noticed it before I can’t stop noticing it. The word that I mean this time is ‘redeemer’.
When we were at Theological College, we did what are called ‘word studies’ on various words in the Bible, including ‘redeemer’. The cluster of ideas that gather around ‘being redeemed’ or ‘redeemer’ go like this. In olden times, people were captured as hostages, or whole nations were deported to be slaves of their military conquerors. They were in the ‘power’ of their victors. When the people came back from exile, it was as if they were being ‘bought back’ from the power of their enemies, into the power of their God.
The same was true of slaves, who were ‘owned’ by someone, but who could be ‘bought back’ for some one else by being ‘redeemed.’ Unfortunately this idea applied to women too, so that if a woman was left widowed, (like Ruth) then someone else (like Boaz as near relative) had the ‘right of redemption’ over her. It was like a ‘first option’ to have this woman in his sphere.
Here is another example. Someone needs money. So they give their cloak to the ‘pawnbroker’ in order to get a short term loan. When they can bay back the money then they can redeem’ their coat.
All these ideas were applied to Jesus. He is called ‘redeemer’ because the idea goes that human beings are, before his work, in the thrall of something bad: like Satan. Jesus ‘pays the price’ and ‘buys’ us back, so that we now belong to Jesus, he ‘owns us’
This hymn from Charles Wesley captures it well
Let Him to whom we now belong
His sovereign right assert,
And take up every thankful song,
And every loving heart.
He justly claims us for His own,
Who bought us with a price:
The Christian lives to Christ alone,
To Christ alone he dies.
The point of all this is, that for a long time the idea of Jesus’ being a redeemer did not make much impact on me: other pictures of what Jesus was doing were more potent. But now, it seems, I would like Jesus to be my ‘redeemer’, because the word keeps ‘popping up’ into my awareness every time I read it in the Bible.
The idea is that I am in the ‘thrall’ of something. Something else ‘owns’ me and influences how I am. I thing that this is particularly true when I am depressed. There is a kind of ‘self punishing’ person (which is ‘me’ too) in whose grasp I am that makes me listless, over reactive, too quick to become angry. Under these circumstances, I am ‘owned’ by this set of ‘powers’.
Now this is nothing like the powers of God in Jesus Christ. I ‘know’ that I am loved. I know that life is imperfect, and that despite its imperfections, I am ‘OK’. (Not brilliant or perfect, or ‘superman, but ‘OK’ man). This is what I know, but it not what I find being operative sometimes. It is in these times that in my prayers, the word ‘redeemed’ becomes important. I want to be ‘redeemed’ from the hand of the enemy (negativity) [Ps 136:24].
This kind of ‘prayer wish’ is a wish that I be ‘taken over’. That I now ‘belong’ to the powers not of darkness and self punishment, but to the powers of ‘realism’ and ‘truth’ in Christ.
The thing for me here is that that either way ‘I am not my own person.’ I ‘belong’ to some ‘world’ or ‘some one’ or another. The question is “Will that world be the ‘world’ of God’s love and acceptance or will it be the ‘world’ of self punishment?”
The truth is that I move from time to time from one to the other. If someone says something hurtful to me, it is difficult to ‘brush it off’. Sometimes success makes me anxious, and it is as if, belonging to ‘the other one’, being successful breaks the mould of failure, and so contravenes the directives of the one to whom I belong.
Now all this is ingrained and the pattern of a lifetime. Changing this pattern is what I would like. Over the years, this pattern has become less severe, though it has not completely abated. What I do know is that the life of prayer, has brought me often into the ‘sphere of God’s grace’ (Romans 5). Friends too have often stopped the lonely mulling over of things, and lifted me into a world where the truth of life in Christ can be recognised.
This is the value of our Gospel reflection Groups or other kinds of support group in congregations. There the truth of my life can be told, and the overly negative messages can be countered.
Not strangely, this puts me too into the same camp as my apostolic namesake, who in the letter he writes to Rome [Ch. 7] talks about the very difference of ‘ownership’ and the ‘battle’ for the core of who we are. Listen.
In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit…
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
In the meantime I watch and pray in hope and sing the Psalms.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem. [Ps 130:7]
And from Taizé, more simply, “Jesus your light is shining within me, let not my doubt and my darkness speak to me.