John 8 INI
There is no word we prize more reverently than freedom. We love the sound of it – freedom. We crave all the freedom we can get. But there is no word more deeply misunderstood. Today the offended crowd snaps back at Jesus, “We are children of Abraham and have never been in bondage to anyone.” Really? You are a nation of slaves whom God must liberate. That is how you started back in Egypt, and what you will always be. Jesus knows our dirty little secret, that so much we prize as freedom is nothing but slavery in a very thin disguise.
Consider Nigel. Nigel does whatever he likes. No one tells him what to do. So he is constantly in trouble. He learned that spankings, grounding, fines and a few nights in the county poky are just the price he must pay for doing what he wants. He’s the Bad Boy mom warned you against.
But will he ever realize that being reckless is not freedom? That being impulsive and irresponsible is not freedom? That being a self-centered fool is not freedom? He will never be free for a stable life, stable relationships or a stable income. He is a slave to his irresponsibility, his wild desires and the unrecognized fears that drive him to self-sabotage and self-destruction.
Or consider Henrietta. She is accustomed to success. Whatever she wants she sets her mind to and she gets. Her success has allowed her to accumulate a pile of toys and trophies. She is the envy of her friends. But now she has encumbered herself with a lifestyle that is very hard to sustain. Her bills are enormous. Something is always breaking and needing repair. Keeping it all secure is a nightmare. And she worries
about what will happen if the music stops. Will she be able to endure
any amount of failure?
Henrietta is a slave to her compulsion to win. She is a slave to her possessions. She is a slave to everything she depends on for all that success. She is a slave to all the turns of fortune she has temporarily managed to surf on successfully in an uncertain world that can turn at any time.
And then there’s us, free for the time being because sickness and poor health have given us a reprieve. Free because age and death haven’t come for us yet. Free because we are unaware for now of the guilt that lies on us for some wrong. Free because we ignore some duty that really does lie on us even if we don’t see it. Free because we do not even recognize the powers that control us, drive us, hinder us. Free because we are not yet paying the price for bad decisions in the past.
Jesus knows that so much of our freedom is sheer illusion – the mere appearance of being able to control what is too powerful for us, our bondage to the very shaky and uncertain grasp we have on what is really good for us, our slavery to our own desires, fears and self-will.
So today he offers us real freedom. And it comes at the price of knowing the truth. The truth about ourselves. The truth about the world. The truth about God. The truth about ourselves is that we are sinners. We live in defiance of God’s truth, which is insanity. For us, the form freedom takes is enlightenment and forgiveness. Hard-won forgiveness for those who will accept mercy they don’t deserve and haven’t earned.
The truth about us is that we are frail creatures, made mostly of water
and living in a world of sharp edges. These days we think a lot about
ebola and terrorists. They are merely the current symbols for what can go wrong. But many more people will die this year of flu and accidents than of ebola and terrorism.
For us freedom cannot mean blanket immunity to anything that might possibly hurt us. Freedom means that our lives are rooted and grounded in Christ. He made it his mission to touch the body fluids of the sick and to face the weapons of the hateful, to take it under his own skin and defeat in his body all that is dangerous to us. Because we are bonded to him, we have the power to endure our misfortunes in hope, the power to live lives that are bigger than what goes wrong, and to live in eternal life when this world has been overcome.
The truth about us is that we are often afraid of real freedom, afraid of standing up and standing out. So we sell ourselves to those who will tell us what to do and what to think, to those who will do the scary things we don’t want to do, though they do it for an exorbitant price.
The truth about this world is that we are surrounded by powers that try to dominate us. The power of fanaticism that goads us into hatred and violence. The power of the media that tries to shape our minds and exploit our fears. The political powers that try to recruit us to their cause. The economic powers that machine us down to cogs in someone else’s money machine. All the powers that try to corrupt us and shackle us with our own weaknesses and failings.
For us freedom comes in the form of courage to resist them, to expose them, to tell the truth in the face of their lies and evasions. This courage comes from resting in the power of God, from acknowledging him alone
as the master, not only of our private lives, but of the universe. This
freedom comes from the gift of faith in the one who promises, “In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer – I have overcome the world.” This freedom comes through the gift of faith in the one who says, and who alone can say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Thanks be to God.