One of the great myths of American liberalism is that it is possible for us, on our own volition, to release ourselves from the captivity of the two chief social agents: the state and the market. We believe that we can be free from the shackles of the law and that we are free to move or pursue our happiness in the late-capitalist market economy. The powers that be can keep perpetuating their control of our imagination if they convince us that we are actually free.
What Jesus doesn’t do is fake the fact that when you follow him, you pledge allegiance and loyalty to him. You submit to God’s will and agree to obey. That language is hard for many of us, who grew up in a liberal democracy, to swallow because we’ve been sold the aforementioned lie about freedom. If the powers, who actually control the basic trajectory of our lives (graduate high school, find employment or go to college, get your real job or go to graduate school, get married, have kids, etc.), convince us that this is really what we want and that we’ve actually made these choices consciously, then the idea of submitting ourselves to something greater seems contradictory. It seems like the opposite of what we want to do.
Furthermore, when we see horrible examples of power and manipulation perpetuated by sexism and racism, patriarchy and white supremacy, the idea that we would ever submit ourselves to God becomes even more ridiculous.
Israel, God’s chosen nation in the First Testament, bases its entire hope on God’s deliverance. God delivers the Israelites from their Egyptian captors and that song is redundantly sang as they proceed to find themselves in and out of captivity. What holds them together when they are flung apart by empire to empire is this hope. It helps them re-imagine how the world really is and it helps them to see that their allegiance and loyalty should be to God and not any other pursuit.
Israel finds itself in captivity when it rejects being taken captive by God and it starts making deals for its own power. It’s an old story. They ally with a new master, so to speak, instead of following their first Master, who now calls them a friend (see John 15). You can see the analogues in contemporary times so clearly. I hardly need to list them.
God’s mercy extends further than his anger and he frees Israel time and again. When it is finally under Roman captivity and hardly even a recognizable nation or a united faith movement, God sends his final Revelation and our Deliverer. Jesus incarnates, God’s begotten son, to save Israel and the rest of the world. He does this through his life, death, and resurrection. The new song we sing remembers this very moment of salvation; we keep drinking from the cup and eating from the bread. We celebrate and remember how we were saved in communion. It is a radical act of re-alignment. One that reminds us that we are not beholden to our own self-interest, and our prophetic imaginations are not limited to the framework and tools that the powers give us. We can imagine another way, and more importantly, illuminate that that Way has already come.
Receive the claim Jesus has made on you, and know that you are not on your own. Move to loyalty with him and resist the indoctrination of the social agents I mentioned above. It begins with naming who you are in Jesus. Allow yourself to find freedom in the fact that by making a claim on you, and calling you one of His own, Jesus saves you from the powers that be. Not because you can conquer them, but because you cannot be conquered. Jesus already holds you, knows you, and redeems you. You can approach suffering, pain, and even death without fear because Jesus existed through it and exists through it. He is making another world happen. You can participate in that world by actively receiving the claim that Jesus has made on you by serving Him, practically. I choose to do that in Circle of Hope. I bond myself to my brothers and sisters in covenant, and then move to enact what we have discerned the Spirit has given us to do. It’s not very complicated, but I like to lift the curtain from behind the simple acts of love and compassion, and show that they are motivated by an allegiance and a loyalty to a new kind of Savior and Chief Social Agent. One above the market and above the state. I do what I do because I am grafted onto His tree and adopted into His family. You have that chance too.