Last week's UPI column

Jesus and Green Stamps

So There I was...

at the “Redemption Center.” My arms cradled the stack of eight by eight inch newsprint books, pages warped by the spit that glued the seemingly infinite number of tiny green paper squares.

Mother had despaired of ever finding the time to empty the kitchen drawer of the logjam of paper scraps acquired as a mercantile bonus at the grocery, gas station and department store. They were just slightly too valuable to toss, but rarely valuable enough to warrant the attention of my busy, creative mother. So she told me that if I did the pasting that I could benefit from the exchange. It took all of a Saturday afternoon, but in the end I had ten completed books of “S and H Green Stamps.” It was with those vast riches that I entered the land of redemption.

At that time any municipality worthy of the name had a “Redemption Center” where you could trade your books for goods. Honestly, I do not know how they covered the overhead. But in those magical places were rows and rows of shiny small home appliances, knick-knacks, sports equipment, baby supplies and toys. Things that middle class mothers desired, but could not fit into their everyday budget. A store where you could buy without money.

After an agonizing search, I walked out dragging a croquet set – fun for the whole family, and an act of altruism on my part.

But it must have been spring, near Easter, because I also remember sitting in church shortly thereafter trying to figure out what “Jesus, our Lord and Redeemer” had to do with Green Stamps.

Life can be perplexing for children in religious families.

This memory wafted up recently while I was sitting in church singing “I know that my redeemer lives,” my favorite Easter hymn.

I’ve been to seminary; I am perplexed at a much higher level than I was as a child. I know that Redeemer is a Hebrew word. It does not appear in what we call the New Testament. The word never comes out of the mouth of Jesus or off of the pen of Paul.

The statement “I know that my redeemer lives” comes instead from old father Job. The story of Job is considered to be one of the oldest stories in written human history. It is a story not just about suffering, but response to suffering – Job’s response and the crummy response of his “Who needs friends like these” friends. Job’s response is a stand of faith; faith in himself, in the God he is angry with, and in the scales of justice. He says, “I know that my redeemer lives and that I shall see him.” Job refuses to allow his friends to talk him out of his self-image of decency, and his belief in the decency of God, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

The only named example we have in scripture of a functioning redeemer is in the story of Ruth. The redeemer is the good man Boaz. Naomi, a righteous widow and her daughter-in-law Ruth, have through no fault of their own, come upon very hard times. Boaz is a near kinsman with adequate resources, and thus by religious law has the right, responsibility and privilege to set things right. He does so, and has been remembered forever for his goodness.

It is for such a redeemer that Job hopes and waits. Job knows that his hope is beyond human resources, and eventually, God steps up.

I do not know who first made the connection and called Jesus Christ the redeemer. I have no argument with this. Christ, who by His birth became a near kinsman while keeping the resources of heaven, had and has the right, responsibility and privilege of redeeming a world that has fallen upon hard times. He said his mission was to bring good new, bind and heal wounds and set captives free.

But the teachings of Jesus Christ do make it clear that we are also to be redeemers. The Sermon on the Mount is all about using Heavenly resources to make things right in the world. That we are also to raise up and encourage the poor, protect the small, weak, and hurting, to set captives free. We are to be a blessing to this Earth not a curse – a force for justice. We understand that redemption comes through relationship, not through military might.

We are near kinsmen to the children of Darfur, the poor of the world, the abused, the mentally ill, the violent. We have the resources. We have the responsibility. We have the right. We have the example of the faith of Job, the actions of Boaz, the teachings of Christ.

The world is our redemption center.
Dear Peggy, you write, "I know that Redeemer is a Hebrew word. It does not appear in what we call the New Testament. The word never comes out of the mouth of Jesus or off of the pen of Paul."

What you say of "redeemer" is quite true. However, from Paul or his imitators, there is Galatians 3:13 -- "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law...." -- and 4:4-5 -- "...God sent forth His Son ... to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." There are also, quite similarly, Romans 3:24 and 8:23, I Corinthians 1:30, Ephesians 1:7, and Colossians 1:14.

And from the pens of other New Testament writers, we have Luke 1:68, 21:28 and 24:21, Hebrews 9:15, Titus 2:13-14, I Peter 1:17-19, and Apocalypse (Revelation) 5:9 and 14:3-4.

Just for whatever little bit it may be worth.
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