31“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
33They 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’?”
It is a tragic conversation. Jesus offers freedom and they take offense: “We…have never been slaves to anyone.” How dare you?! How dare you suggest that we are not free?! How dare you suggest that we are not liberated people, able to chose our own way?! How dare you suggest that we are bound in ignorance, passions and fears?! How dare you suggest that we are captive to our own brokenness?! How dare you suggest that we need some word, some spirit, some vision besides our own?! What do we need from you that we cannot do on our own?! We can make our own choices, chart our own path, seek our own destiny!
The truth is they abide in themselves. Like we all do.
The narrative of Adam and Eve is a rich and subtle text. Created by the breath of God and the soil of the earth, our first parents are given a royal garden to tend. They may feast upon the bounty of that garden. Every fruit of every tree save one is theirs, including the tree of life. But the serpent breaks the spell. With that crafty question “Did God say?” they become the interpreters of God’s word rather than the hearers of it. They now decide what God means instead of living in his word. But some words are not meant to be analyzed. A marriage vow is spoken and received, not evaluated and interpreted. A parent’s love is spoken and inhabited, not studied and debated. What should be a handshake is now an 80 page contract. We do not trust and abide in God’s declaration of love; we parse it.
We imagine we are free, when we are bound within ourselves. We cannot escape our self-consciousness. We cannot let go our self-concern. Only God’s word, God’s speech, God’s declaration of love and grace can free us from ourselves.
Some belief is not belief at all. It is a religiousness that serves the self: inflating my self-image, enhancing my self-righteousness, seeking God’s favor and protection. If Jesus can feed 5,000 from five small bits of bread, I will never be hungry again. Nothing here about feeding the hungry, only feeding myself and my own.
And there is only one remedy for untwisting my soul. Abiding in his word. Dwelling in his promise. Being daily encountered by an incomprehensible self-sacrificing love. Eating the bread that gives eternal life rather than the bread that sustains daily life.
Abiding there will show me the truth of all existence and free me from myself, free me to love God and neighbor, free me to live as heaven’s gardeners in true innocence and faithfulness, in true grace and life.