It is interesting to note that in today’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus spoke to those who “believed in him” (Jn 8:31). But the more he talked, the less they seemed to understand who he was: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” His listeners balked at the word “free”, asserting that because they were ancestors of Abraham they have never been enslaved by anybody.
In the United States of America, freedom is also highly valued. Many of us would probably react very much in the same way. We may have different ways of expressing why we feel that we are free, but we would certainly assert that we are not enslaved to anybody or anything.
Jesus’ words ring just as true then as they do today: “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” Jesus shined his light on the truth that many of us do not see, which is our enslavement to sin. If we truly seek to be free, then we need to acknowledge this point. What many of us claim to be freedom, doing whatever we want to do, when we want to and how we want to do it, is not true freedom. We cannot even hear the clanking of the chains or feel the weight of the shackles chaffing at our skin as we raise and shake our fists to assert our freedom of indifference!
Our response to Jesus’ statement: “who commits sin is a slave of sin” ought not to be one of hiding, denying, rationalizing, attacking or fleeing. It is better to embrace the truth that Jesus is placing before us. In this way, we allow his light to expose the darkness in our heart where sin speaks and where we have said yes to engaging in those sins. Becoming aware of our fault for those things we have done and have failed to do is the first step in healing and moving toward true freedom.
When Pope Francis was asked in an interview, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he answered, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” We are all sinners because of the fact that we all in some form or fashion place idols before God. This is not a negative, pessimistic, or defeatist attitude, quite the contrary. When we call out our sin in truth, we can be free from it. When we think our life is about us first and foremost, and ignore or rationalize our sin then we are enslaved, such that it chokes and threatens to undo us. Then we experience its debilitating effects and succumb or attempt to free ourselves because the process becomes likened to a Chinese finger trap. The more we pull to escape, the tighter the grasp.
We become free from our sins by acknowledging that we are sinners. This does mean we are awful people. It just means that we have fallen for an apparent good instead of the true Good that God wants for us. We also cannot ultimately be freed by our efforts alone. We need to work in collaboration with the mercy of Jesus. We need a savior.
Jesus accepts us as sinners, as we are. We do not have to be perfect or have our house in order for him to come to be present with us, for he is already waiting for us. We do not need to be worthy, we just need to be willing to open the door when he knocks, and invite him into the chaos of our lives so he can heal us with his grace, love, and mercy. “So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.” Let Jesus in today, and each day thereafter, so the slow and steady process of healing can begin.
Photo: Crucifix in the sanctuary of the cathedral, St Ignatius of Loyola, PBG, FL