At the beginning of his letter to the Church in Rome, St. Paul identifies himself to them in an unusual greeting. “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus…” What an opener. I could go off here into a discussion of the different understandings of slavery and the different statuses of them throughout history, but while that can be an interesting academic conversation, it’s not the part that particularly catches my ear. The question to me, really, is why would anyone boast of themselves as a slave? It seems counterintuitive that making ourselves slaves would even be in keeping with what God wants of us. After all, free will was His idea. Why in the world we be giving that up?
The truth, though, is that is not about abandoning our freedom or free will, but directing it. This slavery of St. Paul’s is not something that was thrust on him. He chose it. When he encountered Christ and came face to face with the reality of who Jesus is, Paul laid down everything that he was at His feet. He wasn’t captured, bound, and sold, but chose, in the fullness of his freedom, to become a slave. In this way, St. Paul shows us that even our freedom is a way to come to God, and not a good for its own sake. God gave us free will so that we could receive His love and love Him in return. Paul, educated though he was in the Mosaic Law, knew once he encountered Jesus, that nothing else he had learned could have possibly brought him closer to God than Jesus, and so he chose to use his freedom to become a slave to Christ.
Even acknowledging that reasoning, though, it’s difficult for me to make the leap to saying I’d be better off a slave than free. This is where I think it’s important for us to honestly evaluate what our choices are. Again, our freedom isn’t an absolute condition. We have a freedom to choose, but ultimately, we are choosing who or what we will serve. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that where our treasure is, there are hearts will be. Whatever it is that we desire most, we will make ourselves slaves to, as we seek it even at the expense of all else. Once we recognize this fact, the idea of being a slave of Christ makes sense. What will we sacrifice everything else for? Will we do it for wealth? For fame and respect? Fleeting pleasures? Our constantly shifting appetites? Or, will we, like St. Paul, recognize that our joy and fulfillment can only be found in putting Christ first, even going so far as to become His slave?