“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
I think there is something about today’s gospel passage that might stun our American minds.
The Lord Jesus speaks of liberation. “Come to Me. Learn from Me. You will know the truth then. And the truth will make you free.”
Now, I think we Americans naturally imagine liberation as an escape from being inside to being outside, in the open. That’s what I spontaneously imagine, anyway. Free = outside. Maybe in the car. But definitely not inside.
Both the Lord Jesus and His interlocutors, however, clearly imagined ‘freedom’ in a completely different way, which makes the passage more difficult for us to understand. They did not think that free = being outside. To the contrary, everyone involved in the conversation imagined that ‘free’ meant: being safely inside the house, with no danger whatsoever of being thrown out. A slave must fear being expelled from bed and board, because he has no standing, no real foothold that binds him irrevocably to his home. A free person, on the other hand = someone who dwells securely in his house.
Now, I think this difference actually might be pretty important, when it comes to understanding a lot of the things that the Lord Jesus said. Our American idea of the autonomous individual is simply something that didn’t cross His mind. Christ has revealed to us that the cosmos, taken as a whole, is a household, governed by a loving Father.
It is actually impossible to leave this house. The image of gaining freedom by getting outside, out of the reach of any authority over me—this image of freedom is such a fantasy that it didn’t even occur to anyone in the conversation in the gospel reading.
The heavenly Father runs the cosmos as a bed and board for us, and we all have the absolute right of the freeborn child to our place in it. None of us are slaves who need fear expulsion. So teaches the Christ. ‘The flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, so why would you worry?’
The only way out of the household of God is not a real way, but a fantastical lie. Namely, being seduced by Satan into thinking that we are trash, and that by all rights we will be cast out to the curb sooner or later. Satan tricks us into thinking that the Father is not kind, but is actually a tyrant, so we’re probably better off at the curb. Such are Satan’s lies.
Christ does not set us free, then, for some errant adventure in the windswept, dusty wilds–no matter what our American imaginations might conjure up. To the contrary. Freedom = dwelling securely in this great household operated by God, where we live together, under His ineffably benign authority.