Every nation’s history includes stories about how it first emerged to claim its identity as sovereign. And like all recorded history, what gets passed on skims over bits and pieces of the story. In particular, we generally prefer the version that makes us proud of the country we claim as home.
Of course, while sovereignty implies freedom, not everyone living in a sovereign nation enjoys freedom. Depending on your perspective, as long as there are rules and laws to live by, none of us are totally free to do as we, please. Instead, we discover a pact, constitution, declaration, or other recorded list of ideals and stipulations we all abide by. Along with penalties and plans to enforce whatever was agreed to.
This week our nation celebrates the birth of our independence and subsequent freedom. Since our original (Continental) Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, we light up our skies with rockets on July 4 each year to celebrate our freedom. However, we celebrated freedom for over a century while many of our residents were enslaved.
Last month we celebrated freedom of a different sort. According to Prosperity Now, “Juneteenth National Independence Day commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation, in which President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation to free enslaved African Americans in secessionist states on January 1, 1863. It would not be until two years after this proclamation, however, that the last enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, would learn of their freedom.”
The article points out that freedom is a work in progress: “This holiday reminds us of the delayed freedom granted to Black Americans living in Texas in 1865, paralleling the delay in economic justice and equity for Black Americans in the present day.”
The idea of “freedom” has many meanings and understandings. This was certainly the case for the nation of Israel, whose history is shared with us in scripture.
As Jesus began His public ministry, He traveled from town to town, sharing the good news that a long-awaited Messiah was living among the people. But there was a long history of waiting, and a lot happened during their wait.
Who pays duties or taxes to the kings of this world?
Jesus was born when Palestine was occupied by Roman authorities and the military. Jesus was not born in a sovereign nation free to elect its own government leaders, build their schools, and raise their children as it pleased. Again, we all have a wide range of ideas and ideals about what it means to be free.
Instead, Rome collected taxes from the people used to pay the soldiers who held them captive on their own land. However, Rome managed their colonies by negotiating an arrangement that allowed some measure of local autonomy. And the local authorities imposed taxes to cover their expenses, and for some, to support lavish lifestyles.
Rome invaded Jesus’ homeland more than 60 years before His birth. But the people weren’t necessarily free before then. Centuries after Judah split off from Israel, both nations were later taken over by outsiders, and many of the people of Judah were taken into exile. Some of their descendants later returned to rebuild.
During one period, Judah was occupied and controlled by the Seleucid Empire. This occupation was particularly ruthless as the people were forbidden from worshiping God as they believed was necessary nor participating in their traditional festivals. A war of independence eventually freed the people again, at least for a while.
As we read the first five chapters of our companion book, The Shepherd’s Wife, we learn that Damaris, a name the author created for a sister of Jesus, is married to a candidate to become a Pharisee. A powerful group of prestigious and influential men held high regard by society.
The Pharisees dated back to the war for independence as defenders of the Jewish religion and the right to worship God as scripture describes. During Jesus’ time, this group saw themselves as examples and gatekeepers for gaining God’s favor. However, Jesus saw things differently.
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Our series was inspired by and relies on content provided by Angela Hunt. The Shepherd’s Wife. Jerusalem Road Series. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2020.
“The Rising Juneteenth Tide: Pursuing Racial Economic Justice.” © Prosperity Now, June 19, 2023. Retrieved from: link