The selection from John’s Gospel today speaks of true freedom.
In our overstimulated world of distractions and crises, we can easily become caught into the whirlwind about us, spinning about aimlessly from one stimulation and thrill to another, all the while avoiding what we fear. We lose direction, become anxious, and cling to power, status, money to give life meaning.
But none of this satisfies.
The Jews of Jesus’s time endured many similar distractions and distresses. They clung to the Law of their faith to assure themselves of their righteousness before God.
Jesus, especially in John’s Gospel, works to dispel this narrow notion. He explains that the Law worked for a time to give them a direction, meaning and security that non-Jews would never have. But Jesus tosses this whole framework upside down. Instead, he acts on behalf of his Father in telling them that only total self-abandonment to Someone who transcends the Law brings total freedom and meaning to our lives. This opportunity, he goes on to say, is for ALL people, not just the Jews.
The new teaching didn’t set well with the elite in the Temple in Jerusalem and their followers. They argued with Jesus and devalued what he taught, perhaps because it destroyed every teaching that rooted their lives. We know how this tension ended on Good Friday.
The Gospel reading today assures all of us that Jesus is really from Almighty God, that God wants all people free and the way to freedom is Jesus.
As theologian Leonardo Boff states, “…self-surrender mean(s) risking Mystery, throwing in our lot with that ultimate vessel of Meaning in which we participate more than we dream. This is the opportunity offered to human freedom. Men and women can take advantage of the offer, and rest secure. Or they can let it slip by, and founder in despair…. trust is our tool for not letting hopelessness have the last word. (It) constitutes the supreme deed of human grandeur.”
Following this Way, means much, much more than an intellectual assent, an act of faith recited.
It requires we imitate Jesus and be led into the truth that only an intimate relationship with God can provide. It is a life lived, as Gustavo Gutierrez has said, “without the constraining power of the Law.” Thus, Henri Nouwen concludes, “When we are able to throw off the compulsions and coercions that come from outside of us can we allow the Holy Spirit, God’s love, to be our only guide, then we can live a truly free, interior and spiritual life.”
So, whether as a responsible student, devoted spouse, sanitary worker, parent, factory worker, scholar, health care provider, teacher, pope, beggar or comfortable retiree savoring a life blessed by God, we follow Christ’s example of being loyal and totally dependent on God in every moment in every day. We let the past recede, giving up nostalgia and regrets, and ignore the imagined pitfalls and risks of the future, mindful only of God’s providence in the present moment. In this we are secure. In this we rest. In this we are free. At every one of life’s intersections, when we are to be decisive about which direction to take, we know the Spirit will guide us.
This deep, mystical abandonment to God is available to everyone, by God’s grace. Taking time to reflect and pray on this truth can transform us from being slaves to the winds and distractions of what is unimportant in life to live totally centered in God. This alone, Jesus says, is true, lasting freedom.
Anyone up for that?
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.