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30 June 2013

Freedom: For Me or For Us? (Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

In my early days with the friars, my superior, Fr. Phil, had an interesting way of responding to requests from the younger friars.  We would ask him permission for something and he would always respond: “You can do what you want. “ And then he’d add, “Just so long as you could handle the consequences.”  It seems, of course, that we often didn’t hear this last part.  As a result, we got the tractor stuck in the mud, accidentally sheer off a light pole with a lawn mower and countless times made decisions that if we had thought about the consequences, we likely would have avoided.  At the end of the year we spent under Father Phil’s tutelage, however, he made another valuable comment: he said that the best part of helping younger friars figure out how to make their way in the Capuchins and the world was seeing them when they “got it,” that is to say, when they realized what a gift had been given to them by God in the form of their vocation and then used it accordingly.  In other words, they realized that true life was not doing whatever we wanted, but instead using the freedom given to serve others.  Getting it, consisted of using freedom for the good, not using it for ourselves.

I mention this because it may help us better understand what exactly Paul means in the first reading when he writes, “For freedom, Christ set us free.” It is different from that freedom that we’ll celebrate next week on the Fourth of July.  Freedom of this type – the freedom promised us by the laws of our nation promise us freedom from being told what we can say, what we can believe or what we can write.  What’s more, this freedom has been won by the sacrifice of the men and women who have come before us: it has been through the efforts and sometimes the blood and lives of our mothers and fathers, aunt and uncles, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters that we have had these freedoms bought for us. 

Yet, the freedom of which Paul writes isn’t something that we’ve earned or bought through our own efforts.  Nothing could be further than the truth!  Christian freedom is completely free: it is given to us not because of how good we are, or how much we’ve achieved, but rather through the absolute goodness and generosity of our God.  And let’s be honest: in a world that usually judges us on what we earn or wear, isn’t this refreshing?  But at the same time, it’s scary too because the freedom given to us by God propels us not to be free from; instead, it’s a freedom for: This is the freedom that makes us who we are – it is what makes our faith so powerful.  It is freedom grounded in the complete and total gift of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.  We have it exactly because God has entered into our human world and forever changed it, and more importantly, changed us.

Yet the question remains as to how this freedom changes us.  Knowing what to do with freedom of speech is tough enough: we may say good things or bad things.  Yet, Christian freedom, the freedom that allows us to serve others is even more difficult because the possibilities of caring, forgiving and loving are endless.  Nevertheless, Jesus provides us with a blue print today of the first step of service: “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”
But, wait a minute: why, oh why, would Jesus go to Jerusalem?  These last weeks, we have been hearing of Jesus getting into fights with scribes and Pharisees; last week we heard Jesus telling his disciples what would happen to him: that he would suffer and die.  But it doesn’t need to be this way: it doesn’t need to happen.  If Jesus were to lay low for a period of time and keep his mouth shut, things would pass. 

And yet, Jesus does exactly the opposite: he literally in the original Greek from Luke’s Gospel, “hardened his face to go” to Jerusalem.  Jesus hears the threats, knows and the danger and decides anyway to head to the center of his world: the religious and political hub of Antiquity..  He was heading to the place that kills the prophets, the place where the religious fervor was strongest, the place about which the Roman Empire was most concerned.

Nevertheless, Jesus begins his fateful journey that will see his followers abandon him, his own people despise him and all around him revile him as he hangs upon the cross.  Even Jesus will shout from the cross to his Father in heaven, asking if he has been abandoned.

Yet Jesus still goes to Jerusalem because he knows that the only way to testify against those who would persecute his people is to show them Love that does not cower in the face of death, to show them the freedom he has been given by his Father in heaven is stronger than any power in this world. 

The freedom that we have been given in Christ gives us the strength to serve; the model of his life gives us the blue print by which we may live our lives; Jesus’ cross, death and resurrection teaches us that we our road will not be easy, but that the freedom we use to show other God’s love will indeed set us free into eternal life.  The freedom given to us does not have a price, yet it calls us forth to testify to the gift that we have received.  We have received a great gift in Christ: our freedom in Him is free.  This week, let’s tell others what a wonderful gift it is. 

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