One day there it was in John, chapter 5. the whole story laid out at the end of a web search.
It’s best if I quote it.
Some time later, Jesus went to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. In Jerusalem near the sheep gate, there is a pool called Bethesda, surounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, those paralyzed. An angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and troubled the water; whoever, after the troubling of the water, was the first to step in the water was healed, made whole from disease or affliction.
One who was there had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath; the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
So because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense, Jesus said to them, “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they planned all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.
Just think, the man was cured and Jesus got into trouble for helping him out! What a God! People were mad at him for working a miracle, for using his supernatural skills. In restoring the man’s health with only a spoken word, he broke all kinds of religious laws and rites because his saving grace didn’t rest on the day proclaimed by religious authorities.
The Africans immediately took a liking to what they heard about Jesus. A God-in-the-flesh, not far removed from their own ideas about how god intervenes in the world and assists and is known in the affairs of a community. They admired that he was a rebel and if there was something to do he did it. If it were right, he didn’t worry about pleasing anybody. They liked how he was soft spoken and took time for everyone, no matter their condition.
The Africans knew God shared his gifts. He might not cure everyone, but he touched enough lives for all to have faith in him, to have a sense of hope, and to remember his promise of big things to come. In their time, the slaves knew freedom and justice and wisdom were often tangled up with people trying to hold freedom back.
Here’s what some of the states of the South said in their Articles of Seccession when they left the Union.
Texas: “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. . a provision founded in justice and wisdom . .”
Mississippi : “A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization . . It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.”
Georgia: “the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all .”
These states mistook slavery for a natural order.
Those who wanted to eliminate Jesus for works of faith also misunderstood. And many historians and scholars misunderstood the message of those who flew from bondage. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi were deep South states far from freedon’s borders. It would have taken weeks and weeks of walking to find freedom and cross the river. In the deep South states, runaways generally remained local. They moved freely and stayed close to home. Charleston newspapers are filled with ads of their sightings.
The ads suggest places and locations where the runaways might be found and returned for reward money. These places most often were neighboring plantations where the enslaved had family, the docks where work can be found, and hardscrabble neighbrhoods where status didn’t matter, and nobody asked or told. Here in Charleston, runaways gathered in communities along the edge of the plantations, living deep in the woods. Near the city, they gathered in the Neck, a narrow coastal thicket of forest, marsh, and swamp, just north of the city.
Slaves manned the boats at the ferry crossings, Mathias ferry, Bees ferry, Givhans ferry, Cainhoy. They worked in the vast rice fields planted near the swamp and rivers. Why would they need to be reminded of how to escape the hounds? And how long would it be before the planters alone or together figured out that when they heard the song from the quarters the next day slaves were found missing? White people weren’t that dumb, and the slaves were much smarter. The historians missed the code. The code wasn’t about escape. The song doesn’t have specialized tools. Its demand is shaped from its primary meaning. And as Howard Thurman noted the song reminds its listeners, when confronted with moral injustice, “the universe responded with overwhelming power.”
It was about Christ.
(Cont’d part 3; click to read in a separate web page. Click to enlarge images.)