Have We Forgotten? There is No Choice.
The irony in the Reformation reading that we'll read this Sunday is subtle, but absolutely present.
When Jesus encourages his Jewish followers to remain in his truth because that truth "will make them free," they respond with some defensive indignation.
"Free? We are children of the great Abraham. We've never been slaves to anyone!"
Oh, before we go on, read the short passage to get the gist.
Here it is.
So at this point I imagine Jesus doing a bit of a double-take. Because the seminal story of his people is the story of the Exodus, of being held in slavery by Egypt and being brought out of slavery by God's appointed one, Moses, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night over years of desert wandering and into the promised land.
That mouthful is the grounding story of unity for the children of Abraham: that God saved them...saves them...from bondage.
But Egypt is not the only situation where they've found themselves subservient.
Their history has been one of conquest and being conquered: by Assyria, by Babylon, by Persia, and most recently in this context, by Rome.
As Jesus is speaking the Roman taxation laws were in place, keeping the children of Abraham under monetary and cultural siege.
Which all points to this deep human truth that we hate to recognize, but need to embrace: we forget.
All the time. We forget.
We forget that there are things that hold sway over our lives, things we're not comfortable with but feel powerless over.
We forget that we are slavishly in the palm of the constant news cycle and social media feeds of smiling faces that actually make us feel more depressed.
We forget that we are servants of the never-ending phone notifications that are not just relegated to our pockets anymore, but are now on our wrists.
We forget that we are becoming more and more entrenched in our political partisanship,. The demonization of "the other" is making us zombies of group-think.
We forget that when we go to work we conform, sometimes unconsciously, into the person our co-workers expect us to be; our bosses expect us to be. We forget that, around the table of the family reunion we become who our parents expect us to be; our family members expect us to be.
We are servants of their expectations.
And even if that is not the case for you, we often become addicted to not being who others expect us to be, a kind of servitude of protest which always puts us on guard.
Or maybe you're a slave to your anger. Your self-loathing. Your self-righteousness. Even (gasp) your religiousness? Your prejudice. Other people's prejudice. Your wealth.
Caught in addictions, caught in other's expectations, caught in our own web of lies, caught in bad relationships, destructive thinking; caught in fear, frozen finances, and failed dreams...these are our Assyria, our Babylon, our Rome, our Egypt.
We conventionally think of freedom as having many choices. But, think about it: you have choices...we have choices...and we're still, so often, caught in the traps.
But what if, in Jesus' definition, freedom isn't about choice? What if, in Jesus' definition of freedom, you have no choice?
No choice but to be God's beloved. No choice but to be who God made you to be.
So often we live thinking that we must be different in this world. That we must be our mother's "pride and joy," that we must be "the best employee," that we must be "the rebel."
I even caught my two boys playing school the other day, and one was the teacher while the other was the self-proclaimed "star student." God forbid they ever feel that they have to be that...