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.”
It doesn’t sound like an insult to us. It sounds like a promise. But we are not a society that makes a sharp social distinction between those who are freeborn and those who are manumitted. Jesus’ hearers take offense at the suggestion that they need to be made free and respond indignantly: “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
This little exchange reveals much. These Judeans have pledged their allegiance to Jesus; they have ‘believed’ in him. But Jesus is doubtful and tests their fidelity.
John’s Gospel is full of examples where Jesus is speaking of a spiritual reality and his hearers are stuck in a literal meaning. Nicodemus is told he must be born ‘from above’, but the word also means ‘a second time’ and he puzzles over how it is possible to enter back into the womb. Jesus tells the woman at the well that if she knew who it was that asked her for a drink, she would ask him for living water (which also means fresh, running water), but she responds that Jesus has no bucket. So here, Jesus speaks of freedom and his hearers think only of the institutions of slavery and bond-service. All by itself, this opening exchange reveals that there is something lacking in the professed faith of these Judeans.
The dialogue will get worse. Jesus will question their parentage. He will announce that their deeds show they are not children of God but children of the devil. “There is no place in you for my word,” says Jesus.
The Greek word means to make space. Imagine moving in with a new spouse who makes no room in the closet for your clothes, no shelf in the bathroom for your sundries, no space in the living room for your family photos. These pseudo-disciples have made no space in their lives for Jesus’ teaching, his word, his Spirit.
There is a reason that Christians spend time in the scriptures, in worship, in books that deepen the life of faith. They are trying to make room for the things that Jesus says. They are trying to make room for the Spirit’s gifts. They are moving out old furniture and clearing out closets in order to make room for God.
They want to know true freedom.