Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him: “If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Freedom must be near the top of our top ten favorite words here in the U.S. “Land of the free,” we sing. We celebrate Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” The tower we plan to build on Ground Zero, to replace the World Trade Center demolished in 9/11/01, will bear the name “Freedom Tower.”
Our readiness to celebrate freedom can also verge on the trivial, as when some of us were ticked off by the French reluctance to approve our invasion against Iraq, and so we renamed one of our fast foods “Freedom Fries.” Some have even diagnosed the motives of terrorists with the simplistic explanation, “They hate freedom” (a diagnosis that has never made much sense to me; it just sounds like an assertion that they are the opposite of us, not really human).
Anyway, our predilection for the word is understandable. We have paid dearly to be free from foreign oppression. Some among us have fought long to be free from racial oppression; others, to be liberated from gender-based oppression. And the striving for freedom continues. But let’s get back to the Scripture and see if the Bible takes us deeper in this matter of freedom.
The faith of the people of Israel is rooted in the story of God freeing their Hebrew ancestors from slavery in Egypt. That was a matter of freedom from. It didn’t stop there. The next episode was the giving of the Law at Sinai and finding themselves invited to bond with their creator and liberator in a covenant. That was a matter of freedom for. They were freed from slavery to commit themselves to a life of being bonded with God.
Now what does this talk about “freedom from” and “freedom for” have to do with truth? We began with Jesus’ statement that the truth will make us free. And that truth is identified with living according to Jesus’ teaching. The eternal Word became flesh not to make things difficult, but to liberate us to be fully human. The paradox is that this freedom comes precisely from our tying ourselves to the strenuous and self-denying life of responding to God’s goodness by laying down our lives for one another. For in this Fourth Gospel Jesus doesn’t simply say to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is challenging enough in itself; but in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus take that to another level with his saying, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He said this after hunkering down and washing their feet. In that humble service lies full freedom.
That really gives us something to chew on as we approach Holy Week.
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