Jesus is speaking to a group of his co-religionists-a sympathetic audience. And he says, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." This sounds like a pretty reasonable thing to say. But the listeners push back. "What do you mean? We have always been free! What do you mean 'You will be made free'?"
I have always been a little puzzled by this interchange. Don't they remember the part of their history where they were slaves in Egypt for generations? Have they forgotten so soon? People bristle when they think their freedom is being threatened or questioned. People did in Jesus' day, and we do so today.
On the Fourth of July weekend we like to celebrate our freedom. Independence Day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence-an eloquent and passionate document explaining why the thirteen American colonies no longer intend to be a part of Great Britain. We cherish our freedom, and even like to boast about it. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion-we depend on these freedoms and more, and become just as defensive as the people in Jesus' day were when we feel our freedoms are threatened.
Freedom can be a buzz word used to push all kinds of products and attitudes. Our society tempts us with all sorts of "cheap freedoms," like freedom from consequences, freedom from debt, freedom from pain, freedom from restrictions. In the end, all of those offers are pretty shallow, because no product, no lifestyle can give us deep freedom. That comes from somewhere else.
Jesus is talking about a different kind of freedom. "'Very truly I tell you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.'" The freedom Jesus is talking about is freedom from sin. And that freedom comes only through him. Because without him we are not able to avoid or escape sin. That's part of our human nature.
Note how our baptismal service begins:
"In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the body of Christ. Living with Christ and in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God."
What Jesus offers us is deep freedom, freedom from sin. But it is not cheap. And it is not shallow. Each week in worship we confess our sin corporately, and receive absolution. It is a meaningful part of our liturgy. Yet I wonder if the whole concept of sin needs to be re-articulated for our increasingly secular society. To many outside the church (and many within, I expect), sin is equated with wrongdoings, especially sexual and dietary. But sin is so much more than sex and chocolate! And we can hardly expect people to be seeking forgiveness for sin and to rejoice at absolution if their understanding of sin is so limited. Simply put, in order to teach forgiveness and freedom, we need to do a better job teaching about sin.
Jesus helps us with this with his way of turning things upside down, telling people that the way to gain their life is to lose it and vice versa. The freedom that Jesus embodies is the freedom to serve others.
In "The Freedom of A Christian," Martin Luther points out the seeming dichotomy he finds in the Apostle Paul.
"A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none."
"A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all."
In Christ we are free to serve others. That is freedom worth living for. That is freedom worth dying for.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA