A very long time ago I had a poster taped to the inside of my bedroom door. The image on it was of a rag doll type of figure that looked rather flat, as if it had been run over by a steamroller. Beside the figure was an old-fashioned washing machine and the text on the poster read, “The truth will set you free but it will put you through the ringer first.” Although it was a rather irreverent use of this morning’s gospel passage from John about the truth setting one free (JN 8:31-32), it did make a point about freedom. Jesus was talking to Jewish people who had already come to believe in him and they were confused, asking why Jesus would talk about them becoming free since they were descendants of Abraham who had “never been enslaved to anyone.”
Throughout history there have been many examples of people who have lived in the most dreadful conditions, have been treated badly by governments or dictators or those who claim to represent God, and still retain a spirit that is totally unfettered. How does one remain free is such circumstances? Jesus gives a hint to Christians in the aforementioned text from John which in its entirety says, “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.” Verbs like remain and abide hold great power for those who understand the need to “hold on” no matter what external circumstances cause in one’s life. It is our interior freedom, freedom of spirit that comes from knowing and living in the truth that cannot be taken away. How does one achieve such freedom? Sometimes it seems to come easily in life if one is lucky enough to live in a country like the USA whose founding documents boast “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” especially if that creed is replicated in a family that nurtures not only those principles but also a faith in God and a religious tradition. Even for those that start life with those advantages, however, there comes a moment – or a series of moments – when recognition of injustices extant in the culture or in personal relationships cause one to go deeper into the underlying truths of life. It is at those points of challenge that we need to assess what we have been taught and come to a personal integrity of spirit that can never be taken away. It may be shaken in times of danger or our own weakness but if we remain awake to the truth that we carry deep within us, we will know the freedom of which Jesus speaks this morning. As we live into the last ten days of Lent, let us listen to the consistency of Jesus in his speaking, in his acting and in his loving word that carries him through his death to resurrection. And let the word that is the truth of his life reverberate in us as we remain in him.