Image: Damien with little Evie, Hippopotamus Farm, Tomerong NSW, 2022 (photo by Julie Patterson).

‘In a Spirit of freedom’

Andrew Collis
Thanksgiving for Creation, Season of Creation
Luke 17:5-10

“When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are simple workers [lit. slaves]. We have done no more than our duty.’”

This is a striking verse.

There are many references to slavery in the Bible. In one sense, the whole Bible is a reflection on slavery and freedom – what it means to overcome oppression and to become free people – to experience freedom with one another, in the land that is a gift, in the name of God (whose names include Wisdom, Shalom, Justice, Jesus, Love) … freedom for life together.

The Greek word doulos may be translated “slave” or “servant”, so there’s a bit to keep in mind as we read a text such as today’s gospel.

It’s one thing to be enslaved and exploited (as the Hebrew slaves suffered under imperial rule … as people suffer, women and minority groups especially, under theocratic rule in Iran and Afghanistan, under dictatorial rule in Russia …).

It’s one thing to be enslaved and exploited …

It’s another to choose freely to serve God and neighbour (as the gospel teaches). Indeed, the grace or free kindness of Jesus is imagined in terms of God’s Word or Wisdom embodied as servant or slave (Philippians 2:6-8).

Francis sought connection and meaning in life as a merchant and knight; a monk and musician; a friend to Jesus and to lepers; a lover of God and the cosmos (a family of heavenly and earthly beings); an interfaith peacemaker, gardener and community leader. At each turn he made commitments to serve – choosing, ultimately, devotion to the one he called Lady Poverty.

Clare broke aristocratic ties in dedication to cloistered life. At San Damiano’s she was free to pray and make, to tend and write (thousands of letters, copious correspondence with religious authorities and people of all social classes) … She performed her duties and was happy to do so, truly happy.

Francis and Clare led extraordinary lives and yet we know, deep down, the truth of their witness. “Without hold there is no freedom” (Byung-Chul Han) … “You’re gonna have to serve somebody” (Bob Dylan) …

Bonds of friendship/kinship are precious and liberating … of course, this includes bonds of friendship/kinship tying humans to animal companions. We serve one another in a Spirit of goodness, nourishment, enjoyment, safety, wonder … consolation, comfort … difference, freedom …

My feline friend Esky was born in a concrete shed in the garden, in the church yard. Over the past week I’ve tried several times to photograph her for our prayer slides today. She makes her own decisions and chooses not to be photographed.

What have you learned from an animal companion regarding service and freedom?

The good work of WIRES reminds us of wider networks of relation.

“Since the catastrophic bushfires of 2019/20, WIRES has worked every day to give surviving wildlife a fighting chance …

“It has now allocated millions of dollars to safeguarding surviving species, restoring habitat and urgently expanding Wildlife Emergency Response across the country …

“Providing a 24/7 Wildlife Rescue Service is incredibly complex, and our wildlife are facing horrendous pressures.”

We serve one another in a Spirit of goodness, nourishment, enjoyment, safety, wonder … consolation, comfort … difference, freedom … May it be so. Amen.