Hebrews 13:3, in the old King James Version, reads like this:
“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being you also in the body.”
In the Douay-Rheims, it reads like this:
“Remember them that are in bonds, as if you were bound with them: and them that labour, as being yourselves also in the body.”
Older translations, speaking of those who are bound in chains, came to mind yesterday as I thought of the clergy and others who have been kidnapped and are held captive in various parts of the world. Iraq and the Philippines, of course, come first to my mind right now. The newer translations speak of those who are in prison, rather than those who are in bonds. The Greek word, desmios, can mean a captive, one in bonds, or a prisoner. Somehow, the older translations seem better to me now, as they often do for other reasons.
The RSV translates the same verse:
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.”
That reminds me of Paris Hilton, who no doubt needs prayer right now too.
But the Roman prisons that Paul had in mind might be better expressed with the word “bonds” or “bands.” He meant remembering those who are held captive for their faith and for their work in bringing Christ to a community. Those who have been held captive for their faith, with or without a court or legitimate prison are the kind of people the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind.
Last December, I had a post titled Bound by These Chains: Thoughts on the Links to St. Paul’s Chains, which was motivated in part by the links from St. Paul’s chains that Pope Benedict XVI gave to His Beatitude Christodoulos during his visit to Rome. In that post, I quoted one of the meditations of the Christian missionary Richard Wurmbrand, speaking of the Lithuanian Christian Nijole Sadunaite, who was imprisoned and exiled for several years for distributing Church materials. Wurmbrand quoted a portion of her statement at her sentencing. A fuller quotation appears on the website of the Baltic priests:
“Thank God, not all people have been broken. Our strength in society is not in quantity but in quality. Fearing neither prison nor labour camp, we must condemn all actions which bring injustice and degradation or result in inequality or oppression….
“…This is the happiest day of my life. I am being tried on account of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, which is struggling against physical and spiritual human tyranny. That means I am being tried for truth and the love of my fellow men. What can be more important in life than to love one’s fellow man, his freedom and honour? Love of one’s fellow man is the greatest form of love, while the struggle for human rights is the most beautiful hymn of love. May this hymn forever resound in our hearts and never fall silent. I have been accorded the enviable task, the honourable fate, not only to struggle for human rights, but also to be sentenced for them. My sentence will become triumph! My only regret is that I have been given so little opportunity to work on behalf of man. I will joyfully go into slavery for others and I agree to die so that others may live. Today, as I approach the Eternal Truth, Jesus Christ, I remember His fourth beatitude: “Blessed are they who thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.”
“…I would like to request the court to free from prisons, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals all of those who fought for human rights and justice….”
She would not sign a statement accusing other Catholics in exchange for her own freedom, because, she said “I am bound by the chains of witnesses who throughout the centuries gave their lives for Christ. I am a link in this chain. I will not break it.”
Remembering those who are held captive today for their faith and for their work for Jesus, we too are links in this chain, remembering them as bound with them.
With my best wishes for you all,