Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits 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. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.’ They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
The ancestors of the people Jesus was addressing had been slaves in Egypt in the remote past, and perhaps this made their descendants a little sensitive on the question of freedom. Their pride in their freedom made them deny the real past and claim a fictitious one: “We have never been slaves to anyone,” they said. The ego picks and chooses its facts. Sometimes you feel that personality – an individual’s or especially that of a group – is just the opposite of the truth. Personality is a defence, sometimes a belligerent one; but more often it is like the camouflage that animals use so well to protect themselves. Aggressive talk and behaviour are often a cover for fear; boasting is evidence of a low self-image; a pleaser has no interest in you at all. The truth alone, Jesus said, will set us free.
‘Freedom’, like the words ‘God’, ‘love’, ‘faith’, in practice means whatever you want it to mean. These words are like empty forms into which you pour whatever you want. This is not to suggest that real freedom, love and faith do not exist, any more than it is to suggest that God does not exist. It is to say that there is an inner reality that is not guaranteed by the corresponding word. External forms of freedom have their own urgency, but inner slavery can co-exist with external freedom. I am not fully free until I have inner freedom: in other words, until I am free of myself.
How free are you? Try this experiment. Take a sheet of paper and a pencil and draw a figure that expresses pure freedom – a figure that is pure freedom. Nobody is pushing you or holding you back. There are no guidelines and no expectations, except that the figure should express pure freedom. It is very difficult! But just think: if it is so difficult in such a simple matter, how much more difficult when it comes to highly complex human actions? The truth, Jesus said, will set us free. One part of that truth is that we are not free. Freedom is not a thing of the past; it is something I have to step into in the present, with every step.
|Back to calendar|