Have you seen the movie Lincoln? It focuses on a brief time period, mostly January of 1865, and the difficult but ultimately successful passage in congress of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting slavery.
One might have thought slavery was ended a few years earlier, with this document:
By the President of the United States of America, A Proclamation.
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”
This Emancipation Proclamation was not recognized by the Confederate States, of course, and it would require the 14th amendment and the end of the Civil War to end slavery.
Today, though we celebrate deep progress, hardly anyone would say that equal civil rights have been achieved 100% by every person and group.
When Jesus spoke in his hometown synagogue, he quoted these 500-year-old words from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [from Luke 4] Then, says Luke, he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In both of these cases there is talk of fulfillment. And the results? Well, progress was huge. In Jesus’ case, we have a church that grew out of those words and kept them for all subsequent generations, signaling their importance.
The point is that each of our generations—whether we’re talking about Americans reaching for freedom and equality after the example of Lincoln, or people of faith reaching for the same things after the example of Jesus—each generation must continue the work. Yes, great things have already occurred. Yes, great things are occurring every day. And finally, yes, there is still work to be done.
We continue to reach, continue to point the way, continue to open doors, continue to free the oppressed.
The future of what has yet to come is already foreshadowed in the progress we’ve made.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2013