I ordered a chair this week. It came in a big, heavy box, as you might expect. The box had gotten pretty battered during shipping, and when I opened it and got the chair out, I saw that it had been damaged too. A noticeable rip in the upholstery, right where a similar-sized hole in the box was.
I looked online to see about how to return the chair, and I immediately saw a problem. The company would send me a shipping label, they assured me. They were really sorry for the damage to my chair, and of course they’d issue a complete refund. Just box the chair back up, take it to the shipper of my choice, and, oh yes….pay for shipping.
I have no idea, and I don’t want to know, what shipping that chair back to the manufacturer would have cost!
So I called their customer service number, and thankfully, this was one of those rare times that “customer service number” wasn’t an oxymoron. The woman I talked to was very friendly and helpful. She asked me to email her a photo of the damage, then within a few minutes assured me that they would send me a replacement chair and that I didn’t need to ship the ripped one back at all.
So I got a free — if slightly damaged — chair out of the deal.
I mentioned all this to a few people this week, and got interesting responses. Almost every one kind of shook their heads and tsk-tsk’ed the wastefulness of the company. I guess, since it directly benefitted me, I didn't consider that. I suppose there is a bit of wastefulness in it. Wouldn’t it make sense for the company to want the chair back? I mean, they could re-cover it and sell it as new, right? Who would know? Knock off a few bucks and they might even be able to sell it as-is. At the very least, wouldn’t it make sense for them to want the parts from that damaged chair, the frame and motors and actuators and whatever else? More sense, at least, than giving me a buy-one-get-one-free deal on a chair?
But, of course, no. They buy all the parts in bulk. Those few parts, or whatever they could make by repairing or selling that chair as damaged, isn’t worth the price of shipping it back and the labor of fixing or stripping it. In their estimation, the cost to them is too high to justify. It's a lost cause. That damaged chair is just not worth it.
In Chicago, we’re dealing with an influx of asylum-seekers from Central and South America sent to us from other states. Obviously, there’s a cost involved with trying to house around 13,000 people without homes, jobs, and basic necessities. I don’t know all the right answers, except to say that the lives of these human beings, created by God and trying to make a way for themselves and their families, shouldn’t be manipulated for the sake of political theater. I also know that there are people in our city, just like in those states from which our asylum-seekers came, who would basically regard them in the same way that company regarded its chair.
Not worth it. Not worth the trouble and expense.
In the part of the Bible most Christians refer to as the Old Testament, there’s a series of laws that are pretty interesting. They all revolve around the role of family and next of kin. You might summarize these laws by saying that the next of kin had certain responsibilities. If someone intended to sell a field, the next of kin had the right of first refusal to buy it so that it would stay in the family. If someone was murdered, the next of kin had the obligation to avenge that death. If a person was facing the economic necessity of selling themselves into indentured servitude, his next of kin could purchase his freedom. If someone died, his next of kin was responsible for marrying the widow and bearing children in the name of his deceased relative. When parents had their first child, they were responsible for making an offering to God as a replacement for God’s requirement that every firstborn was consecrated to him.
This next-of-kin was called a ga’al in Hebrew. It’s often translated “redeemer” in English Bibles.
I love that God created laws for Israel to help make sure that human beings aren’t forgotten or ignored when they become expensive, when they tax our resources of patience, time, energy, money, and attention. What I take from those laws is that I need to find ways to make God’s concern for redemption a big part of the way I live. We all at times need a redeemer, someone who in our worst moments will speak up for us, come looking for us, defend us, invest in us, and help us to be free. We’ve all had someone like that in our lives, whether we admit it or not. And we all need to be a redeemer to the people in our lives sometimes.
Of course, God’s concern for redemption comes from who he is. At least 17 times in the Bible, God is called Israel’s ga’al — their Redeemer. God is the next of kin for his people, their Father who vindicates them, protects them, avenges them, and frees them from slavery. Embedded deep in the concept of redemption is family. God expects his people to be family for each other because he is our family. And family doesn’t give up on each other when we become too expensive.
You probably already know that redemption isn’t just an “Old Testament thing,” though.
Paul writes this to Titus, the young servant he left to help the church in Crete:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
To Paul, one of the ways that Jesus embodied the glory of God was in his role as Redeemer. Which actually answers a question about God as Israel’s Redeemer. The Law was explicit, more or less, about what the redemption price of a field or servant or firstborn child was. But how can God be a Redeemer? What cost can redemption have for him?
You already know, don’t you?
“Jesus Christ…gave himself for us to redeem us….”
That’s what it took for God to Redeem us — the life of Jesus, the life of his Son. “For God so loved the world,” John wrote in his Gospel, “that he gave his only Son.” God refused to give us up, even when according to every metric we weren’t worth the expense. By most measurements we weren’t worth the cost of repair, not even of stripping for parts.
But our Maker thinks differently. His metrics are not most metrics. We aren’t a commodity to him, we are his family. And family doesn’t give up on each other.
So if anyone wants to tell you that you’re like my chair, too damaged to matter to anyone, tell them your Maker feels otherwise. He’s your Redeemer, and the cost he paid was the life of Jesus. He did that so you could finally get free of all the things that cheapen you and make you his — and eager to do good.
And one of the ways he most wants us to do good is to treat other people in the very same way. As people who matter to their Maker, who could be set free to be good-doing people of God as well.
We’ve been redeemed. Let’s be redeemers.
To God, we’re all worth a second chance.