free at last | John 8.31-35
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-35 | ESV
Wanting to prod these local Judeans further, deeper in this turn towards trust in him many were experiencing, Jesus issued this challenge: “It takes more than nodding your head and crossing your heart to make you one of my followers; you have to settle deep into my Message and make it your home. Then you’ll be a bona-fide follower – and then you’ll finally and fully begin to grasp the Big Picture of all Reality, and step into true freedom.” The word “freedom” triggered some of them in the crowd politically and they bristled, “How dare you imply we need freedom! We are Abraham’s offspring, for crying out loud! We are free, our heads always held high – how can you say we will step into true freedom when that’s what we already are!?” Jesus responded patiently, “I’m going to say this twice and mean it: you’re hearing ‘political status’ and I’m talking ‘moral condition’ – and anyone stuck in endless repetitions of the same immoral ruts is clearly chained like a slave to those habits of heart and life. There’s no home and heritage there – only the tumbleweed existence of a slave who’s here today and gone tomorrow; but a son has lasting roots in the family that only grow deeper over time. And if such a Son unshackles you from your own destructive ruts, then we’re talking real freedom, not just slogans about it slapped on your bumpers.” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Jesus is twelve years old, sitting among the teachers, asking them questions, and “they were amazed at his understanding and answers”
(check out the story in Luke 2:41-51).
How the wheel has turned. Same temple courts, same Jesus – though at least eighteen years older – and no doubt different teachers, but instead of admiration there is only rancor, ugly debate, and sneering accusations.
And it’s all triggered by Jesus using the word “freedom.”
Many words come to mind that can readily set people off, inflame emotions and create conflict on the spot – and “freedom” wouldn’t seem to be one of them. I suppose it all depends on the saying and the hearing of it. Jesus speaks the word “freedom” as a word of assurance to those who believed in him. It’s apparently the other, more hostile (and vociferous) part of the crowd who take it up as a challenge or even an insult, jumping on it as an insinuation that they needed to be free of anything and as a stain upon their heritage. I suspect many of us would find ourselves at home among this hostile crowd, crowing about our heritage of freedom and liberty as Americans, touting the history of our Founding Fathers, while we seek to divert the spotlight away from inner moral bondage and servitude to more exterior, safe, and incendiary political topics. It’s always easier to engage in political and cultural debates – or to attack the person that is making you feel exposed – than to do the hard work of self-examination.
The fact is, that though we have an amazing heritage of freedom, we are enslaved in more ways than we would ever wish to admit – to greed, to entertainment, to consumption, to pleasure, to pride, and to biting tongues, for starters. These are the great ills that Jesus targets, and over which he proclaims his own dramatic “free at last” – even as we run off bound by our own internal chains to break the fetters of a host of social ills.
And though he doesn’t employ the analogy here, it fits. “Clean the inside of the cup,” Jesus tells us, “and then the outside will be clean also.” Perhaps the greatest challenge of all for us is to actually examine the inside of the cup rather than trying to throw it at the one who’s pointing out the grease.
How are you being challenged to pursue the deeper work of freedom in your own heart and life? Where in your life do you feel in “bondage”? Why? How can you be “free at last”?
Abba, bring on a new birth of freedom in my heart, my soul, my mind. Advance the deep, inner work of freedom in my life. Rattle the cage in my mind and shatter the chains binding my soul. Let me be free indeed. Through Christ.