Freedom's just another word for...

John 8:31-38

"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." -- Jesus

We are blessed to live in a free land but, like those first Jewish believers, we are caught in unfreedom all the same.

Listening to John's description of Jesus's encounter with "the Jews who had believed in him," I hear a teacher's caring lesson, not an angry confrontation. The passage begins with a lesson that seeks their good: following in Jesus' word, living under his yoke of discipleship, leads to true freedom. Good news, indeed.

But here these believers get stuck. They're caught thinking in the world's terms, where they are indeed free men, not slaves, not imprisoned debtors (although they do live under occupation). They're thinking in the worldview of their religion, where they have followed the laws and rules and are "free."

Jesus, characteristically, looks deeper. He is thinking in the way of the Kingdom of God, where verdict's of the Roman laws and self-justification by keeping an external religious law both fall short. In the Kingdom, living in the way of love and truth taught by Christ is the measure. So he begins by saying that living in the humility and justice that he models leads to freedom that neither the governor nor the high priest can offer -- the freedom to be who God has created them to be.

Stuck in their surface definition of free, they toss this good news aside and focus on justifying themselves. "We've never been slaves to anyone," they protest. "What do you mean?"

Jesus replies in expansive Kingdom terms. Everyone who commits sin -- i.e., everyone of us (not just those that aren't ritually pure) -- is a slave to sin. In the household of God, on our own we are not sons and daughters but servants. But Jesus, who is without sin, is the Son, and he chooses to make all who follow his way his brothers and sisters in that household. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

Indeed. True freedom is not just having legal independence nor ritual purity. And its not the romanticized freedom of the young and poor, nor the resigned freedom that Kris Kristofferson calls "...just another word for nothin' left to lose." True freedom is nothing more -- and nothing less -- than living fully and well in harmony with God's reality, not the one that we see in front of us.

Can you imagine Jesus saying to you, "I have made you free indeed"?

What difference would that make in your life?

What unfreedom keeps you from accepting the freedom Christ wants to give you?


The pattern of hope

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. - Romans 5:1-5 NRSV

When faced with suffering, I am likely to focus on hope -- or my lack thereof. In rough moments I tend to fan the small embers of hope in my soul, or lament the lack of a spark. St. Paul wisely describes the lighting of hope's fire as a longer and less direct process.

Hope cannot be born out of a difficult circumstance, but out of character, our ingrained pattern of responding to trouble and suffering (and joy and success, as well). This is not an instant reaction, and in fact if we are reactive we will likely not experience hope, but fear and longing. Our character is shaped slowly, like clay being formed into a jar by the steady hands of a potter applying pressure gradually while the clay spins on the wheel. To continue the analogy, the pressure is applied externally, through the impact of unmerited graces or the weight of unwanted suffering. As Richard Rohr says, our natural, human resistance to change means that most transformation comes through external events.

Hope is not just the anticipation of a bloom in spring; it, itself, takes a long time to germinate.

So I can boast of this long period of waiting and hurting, not in the sense of "Hey, look at me, I'm suffering" but in the knowledge (and hope) that God is planting in this seemingly barren soil, which is really quite fertile.