The Truth About Freedom
Reformation Sunday Lectionary Reflection
October 30, 2011
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31b-32
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” This final line to the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung before sports competitions, at patriotic remembrances, and in a host of other situations. It’s a standard in the United States patriotic repertoire, reminding citizens of their legacy and the freedoms guaranteed to those who dwell in the land. Our nation’s flag, so eloquently described in Francis Scott Key’s lyrics, symbolizes this hard-won freedom, a costly gift often taken for granted today. We too easily forget there was a time when the 13 colonies were subject to British rule and taxation, that we have not always been a great and free nation.
Such was the case with the folks in the gospel lesson appointed for Reformation Sunday. Jesus reminds these Jewish believers of the source of their freedom, but all they seem to hear is an accusatory voice saying they are not really free. “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone,” they reply. I guess they forgot about those years in Egypt under Pharaoh’s thumb or the time spent in Babylonian captivity.
Jesus continues his explanation, emphasizing that the law, wonderful though it is, still leaves them enslaved to sin. Only the Son of God offers the freedom of adoption into God’s reign, giving the promise of full incorporation into the family rather than the uncertainty of servitude.
Things didn’t go so hot in response to the truth Jesus presented. Read on to the end of the eighth chapter and see where the good folk “picked up stones to throw at him (vs. 59). Funny how telling the truth about real freedom is such risky business! We like our freedom, but we sure do like it our way.
Just how free are we today as a whole? Are we that much different from Jesus’ audience? Are we really free when each citizen’s share of our nation’s debt now stands at almost $48,000? Are we really free when the average American owes more than $7,100 in credit card debt? Are we really free when the typical American college graduate owes more than $23,000 in student loan debt? How free are the more than one million American homeowners who thought they were living the American dream but lost their homes to foreclosure in 2008? How free are we as a society when we depend so heavily on fossil fuel, global manufacturing and supply chains, and agribusiness? Yes, we are slaves to sin, selfishness, and greed. We do it our way regardless of who we might trample in the process.
Every Sunday in Lutheran congregations, we begin with Confession and Forgiveness, acknowledging “that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves” (ELW 95). Other Christians use similar language to describe the reality of our individual and communal bondage. So what are we to do in light of the absolution we receive and in response to the costly grace of Jesus?
Why not start by acknowledging the truth about our freedom and by conforming ourselves to the prescription our Lord sets forth “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Notice some key words here: “continue,” “know,” and “make.” Our freedom in Christ is a process that involves our active participation as disciples. When we abide in the way of Christ, we will “know” the truth and understand the source of our freedom and salvation. Finally, this truth does not set us free to go our own way; it “makes” us free or “frees” us. We are free to be active members of God’s family, ushering in the reign of God in the already of this present day.
I wonder what might happen if we really looked at freedom in this way? Could a change of heart and way of living and being also address some of the other types of slavery that bind us in our nation and world? What sort of reformation might be just over the horizon? The questions are worth pondering.
(Photo by cliffjamester used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)
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