Psalm 78; Neh. 9:26-38; Rev. 18:9-20; Matt. 15:21-28
Panel 90 of the Apocalypse Tapestries, in which the nest of demons hiding in the cellars of Babylon is revealed: Angers France, Castle Museum, wool, after designs by Jean Bandol (Flemish designer), 1370s
Revelation 18:11-13 is perhaps the saddest statement on the human condition of any in all of literature. All the merchants of the earth are sad and sorrowful because the supply chain is broken and no one is buying their wares–the last, and most important, of which is “human souls.”
Commerce is good. Prosperity is good. I like that I have six kinds of finishing salt and three grades of cinnamon in my spice cabinet. God put flavor in the cinnamon tree’s bark and color on the bird wings so that we might take delight in them. Nothing bad about physical pleasure or physical plenty. But when we start to market one another in the same way that we market crude oil or pepper corns, when people’s integrity and autonomy and dignity become commodities to be traded like socks, well, we’ve entered into the territory of Babylon the cursed, friends.
And make no mistake: people are commodified every day. That’s what human trafficking is all about–the ‘sex industry’ (ugh, what an anti-erotic thought, that intimacy would be industrialized) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people kept at work against their will for the benefit of others. At its worst, in countries like Mauritania, it’s outright and public slavery (an estimated 20% of that country’s population are slaves), but it’s around most of our corners, if only we knew where to look: undocumented folks forced to work for the benefit of others lest they be “turned in” and deported, spouses and kids held in fear for the benefit of a family member’s fragile ego. We all know people who love their family exactly as, and only when, the family members do as they’re told, people who are tossed aside as soon as they’re no longer ‘valuable.’ And let’s not even get started on the ways that abusive capitalism (I did not say all capitalism is abusive, so spare me the lectures on socialism) treats people the same way communism does: as eggs to be broken, if an omelet is on the menu.
People are not commodities, friends. My worth as a human is in no way dependent on whether I’m useful to you–and if you start to think differently, to act differently, then woe indeed. For Babylon the mighty may be attractive, but she’s doomed in the end.