Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Years ago, I worked with recovering addicts in a rehab hospital. The vets of these programs would confront stubborn new members of the program by saying: “The truth will set you free…and sometimes really tick you off!” They knew first hand the empty promises, the false joys of slavery to sin. Not that their addictions per se were sinful, of course, but the lives they were required to invent in support their addictions were always just on the verge of total collapse. More than anything their addictions chained them to lying, to illusion, and dumped them all alone in a dark world to recycle hopelessness and despair. When they would tell the newbie in the group that the truth would set him free, they meant that his life had to change radically. When they told him that the truth would tick him off, they meant that it would REALLY tick him off. Our chosen illusions can comfort us while keeping us chained to the darkness of sin. Do we prefer the security of slavery over the frightening possibilities of freedom? Jesus says, “. . .the truth will set you free.”
Who are Jesus' students in this lesson? Not the crowds. Not the scribes and Pharisees. But “those Jews who believed in him.” He’s teaching those who already confess his lordship, those who already know who he is and bend themselves to his word. Beyond this initial profession of faith, Jesus is telling them that there is a state of true discipleship, an enduring friendship of obedience and love that rests on a simple progression of knowledge: remain in my word—know the truth—the truth will set you free. He says, “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” Each act of disobedience then, each willful failure to hear and heed the Word is a link in the chains around our necks. This is not punishment for a crime but the consequences of pride. We choose to depend on our own will rather than the will of the Father for us. Sin is surrender: to our passions, our prejudices, and our chosen illusions; giving in and giving up to our delusions of grandeur, the lie that we can be God w/o God.
When Jesus tells the believing Jews to remain in his word, to know the truth, and that this truth will set them free, what exactly is he teaching them? Benedict XVI answers in his exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis: “In the sacrament of the altar[…]the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free, Christ becomes for us the food of truth[…]Jesus Christ is the Truth in person, drawing the world to himself” (SC 2). To remain in Christ’s word then is to meet him daily. To know his truth is to know him intimately as Lord. To be set free by truth is to be enslaved to Christ…daily. Benedict goes on to teach: “Jesus is the [magnet] of human freedom: without him, freedom loses its focus, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom becomes debased, alienated and reduced to empty [whim]. With him, freedom finds itself” (SC 2). There is no freedom without truth. We cannot act freely as creatures without the foundation and goal of truth. Without truth we merely act, creating illusions, building up our resistance to obedience, and preparing ourselves for the final scene of a terrible drama: slavery to our smallish passions, our unbending preferences.
Do you prefer the security of slavery over the frightening possibilities of freedom? Does the idea that you cannot act freely without acting truthfully scare you? Christ is our freedom. He is our truth. If you remain in his word, you will truly be his disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth has already set you free.______________
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