Perhaps You’re Not as Free as You Think You Are

Jesus Knows Our Address

 I’ve searched frantically for a movie clip from a made for TV film in the 90’s about the life of Jesus, and have come up with nada, zilch!  I remember the movie struck me though with this portrayal of Jesus, as He was giving his words of wisdom, as one who seemed like he was on a strong regiment of Prozac.

He was depicted in this particular movie as having this constant proverbial smile, never wiping that plastered grin off his face for too long.  I also remember some religious people didn’t like the movie at all.  Too much grace I’m afraid don’t you know.  Shocker alert!  And if I remember correctly, it was probably for the same reason they don’t like most films on the life of Jesus that don’t portray Him as a milquetoast figure; while also high on His deity, with the exact recitation of the King’s English nailed down, and extremely low on emphasizing much of his humanity to disrupt the comfort of the Pharisaic nature in us all.  But having said all that, the thing I remember most about the film was the scene when he is walking through the village and has an interaction with Mary Magdalene.   For several scenes leading up to the encounter, we see her stalking him so to speak, watching his every move, biding her time before she will see for herself what all the fuss is about with this mysterious man from Galilee.  And then it happens. As they finally have their brief encounter, Jesus extends an invitation for her to follow with an added reminder that with that call there is an invitation to be “truly” free.  And at that very moment, Mary then quips the following: “Free, Ha!  I already am free”.  To which Jesus then tenderly rebuts with the words, “No you’re not, but you could be”, with that same Joker-like grin penetrating her now deficient come-back line.

 Give Us Free!

 The culture at large talks an awful lot about freedom, especially in the home of the supposed free and the land of the brave.  We spout off a lot about our freedom, our rights, and banter with a no holds barred refrain to be exactly “who we are”, as if somehow that is what freedom actually is (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone of course).  Added to that subtle inaccuracy is the belief that somehow the repression of what is innate down deep within the fibers of our being is indeed that yet unrealized life-giving spirit which will ultimately set us on the course to: well, you guess it: happiness.  Ironically, it is also interesting to note that though our culture has by and large embarked in a wholesale boycott of Christian values that seems to speak to the contrary of our supposed freedom that is somehow boundaryless, most seem to be naively unaware that the freedom to discourse on this very idea came from the very values they now reject!  For our very ability to express our liberty and to (credulously) moralize on and on about it, is due to the 2,000-year history of breathing in the Christian air that has existed primarily in the West.  Air that came to their land in a new-found freedom experiment of which we are all still a part of.  And if this is true, perhaps we have now permanently thrown out the baby with the bathwater!

But nevertheless, the real point is this: Are those of us who have now let our proverbial freak flag fly (Neil Young) as high as it can possibly go, actually free?  And, if we are not actually free as Jesus proposed to Mary and that I now propose to us, is it not really because we bloody well don’t want to be; especially if it means it will cost its radical redefinition and thus the reorientation of the course of our life with us no longer in the driver’s seat?  And could it also be that the very things that we suppose make us free, are actually very comfortable and yet predictable chains that keep us imprisoned and in fact “unhappy” under our own administration of lock and key?

An Encounter at the Pool on Shabbat

 You know I wouldn’t stake my life on it, and I promise not to start a new denomination on its’ tenets, but sometimes I wonder if something like this was going on behind the scenes when Jesus encountered a disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.  The text in John chapter 5 tells us that Jesus saw him lying there and realizes that his affliction has been lengthy in his life, and so he asks him an almost nonsensical question from my vantage point, but that adds to the point of our story.   He says to Him, “Do you want to become well?”, which I find telling to say the least?  And I don’t know about you, but I think my quick retort would have been, “No JC, why don’t you just go ahead and strike a match to me and put me out of my misery?  Yea, that should cover it!”  But instead, the man basically explains that it’s not that he doesn’t want to be well, but that every time he grovels over to get into the pool that is supposed to have healing powers, some other Tom, Dick or Harry gets there first.  And as a result, he simply cannot get “to” the potential healing just a few crawls away.  And in typical Jesus fashion, He says to the man, “Stand up, Pick up your mat and walk”.  And as you guessed it, the man picks up his mat and high tails it out of there.  But no so fast.  It’s Shabbat of course, and all of those religionists are ticked (another shocker alert), though that isn’t the point of our emphasis today.

Being Disabled Ain’t So Bad

 What actually struck me, is that after the dogmatists pin the poor crippled man on the details of his healing and remind him what day it is (as if he didn’t actually know), Jesus then encounters the man one more time before we exit the scene.  And Jesus says to him these attention-grabbing words: “Look, you have become well.  Don’t sin anymore, lest anything worse happen to you”. 

 Now before all you “grace-only” people start to flip your lid about where I’m headed with this, let me just say that I find it noteworthy that Jesus responds to him in this way.  Whereas most of the time Jesus says something along the lines of “Your faith has healed you”, or something similar, He says instead what most of us Pharisees both secretly believe and want Jesus to say all along.  And that is, that the man must have done something to deserve his plight.  And here’s our justification right here sitting up pretty just like stink on poop, served up nice and smelly!  But as I linger a little longer at the table of the Lord’s word, I wonder if what we find is of course some of that, but also what we discover is that the man really didn’t necessarily want the deliverance; just yet.  But perhaps maybe, just maybe, the long imprisonment of his physical ailment became like a familiar and comforting friend.  And perhaps again, the chains that afforded him to no longer have to beg for his daily meal and sustenance, was a little out of his comfort zone.  Which is why he always seemed to come up just a scuttle shy of his actual healing.  Or just maybe, like you and I at some point in our life, he really didn’t want the freedom that only the Lord can give when it’s all said and done.  And perchance we too, like the man by the pool, realize both what the release of the chains will mean in our new experience of survival now naked and afraid, and yet also the healing that would come with teeth in it, reminding us that with the graceful call, is also the size-able “Don’t sin anymore” part we often rather resolutely miss.

 Are you Really Free?

 You know Jesus said that it was actually the “truth” that would set us free If I’m not mistaken.  And as best as I can tell from some forty-nine of my fifty-five years sitting at the feet of the scriptures, that truth is both manifold and inexhaustible.  It is of course at the outset, the truth about who Jesus is and the life He came to give which is only found in Him whether we buy in or not.  It’s also found in His words, His life, and His body and blood that we ingest into ourselves both figuratively and literally (Your welcome Catholics and Protestants).  And yet it’s also the truth about us is it not?  It’s the truth about the mirror we hold up each day, now free to not look away but to rather embrace what we find and ask God to help us “sin no more”.  It’s the truth about the houses we build made of sand, the pride that often comes right before our fall, and the deification of ourselves as the end-all, be-all of our existence on this earth.  It’s the truth about what we think is our freedom to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and submit to nothing or no one, and equally about the actual enslavement we have instead heaped up for ourselves by ignoring the sine qua non to our actual freedom.  And perhaps the truth is, we don’t really want to be free if that’s what it boils down to.  And so, I propose that most of us that pride ourselves in sticking our very stoic middle finger up to any who would take us down from our libertine pedestal, are actually not free at all.  At least that’s what the Son of Man said.  But guess what?  You could be!

Selah

Working Day and Night

In our American culture, we have an insane tendency towards the incessant “doing” as we all should know by now.  It comes to us and is woven into the fabric of our lives before we are old enough to even fully understand it, so it seems.  And the endless day planners and self-help gurus are there to remind us in the form of paper trails and varied flickering pixels, that if we can just do more, we will somehow unlock the keys to wealth, and then by proxy: happiness, that will then lead us to some nirvana of fulfillment which will cause us to live somewhere “over the rainbow”.

Christians Are Not Exempt

This same tendency also reaches into the lives of those of who have a spiritual bone in our bodies I’m afraid.  And as such, we also work to gain more and more, to please men, and in order to validate our worth before God putting a feather in our religion cap as we go.  And as a result, our lifetime is spent checking off these lists, and forwarding to the next day our endless “to do” items, that for most normal people at least, never totally gets done.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop us from still believing that if somehow, we “do” more, we’ll eventually get it right, and nothing but good things will come from it.  And yet also, like the rat on the wheel, we become enslaved to the tedium of forever running in place, when it seems that everyone but us realize that we are actually going nowhere; only very, very, fast.

The Food We Lack

This is descriptive of a scene in the gospel of John, where the crowd of people now growing more and more in number, after having had their full of some tasty loaves and fish, want to now figure out how they can get this buffet line in perpetuity.  Jesus it seems recognizes this, and for our thinking today, he says something that at least should cause us some quiet reflection, though we have heard this same story time and time again.  He says, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27a NET).  It is not surprising though, that like us, they are forever hard of hearing, and so they get right back to their rat-race life asking again what they must do to get the bigger, better deal they propose is now within their grasp.  And also like you and I, their hope is that the Jesus “genie in the lamp” they hope they have now found, will also do more at their beckon call, and that somehow this will make true believers out of them; even though they still really have no idea what that actually means.  And many of us who call ourselves followers on this narrow path, still don’t either.  But I digress.

The One Thing…

Now Jesus is speaking about the fact that there is indeed something that must take center-stage over and above all of our to do lists, and to our good service in the kingdom even.  For like Martha, who was busy about many, many, even valid things; she missed the exit ramp that offered her the ability to simply stop and sit at the Master of the Universe’s feet for a moment in time, while Mary somehow knew this was what she sorely needed in order to make sense of her otherwise topsy-turvy life. And as you might have already guessed, the food that she needed, as Jesus has reminded us of, is indeed that which remains when everything else we’ve marked off of our lists leaves us empty, unfulfilled, and still endlessly striving for more.  In fact, I know a lot of such people.  And in retrospect, I’ve often been tempted to be one myself, so I truly have no stones to throw here.  For the very American Dream (which I like to now I call a nightmare if not properly ordered) that we strive for, if we are not careful; can actually be the very thing that is not only killing us slowly, but which also can become a serious inhibitor to our steady walk on the narrow path.  And this should be no stark revelation to us for inquiring minds who truly want to know.

Churchianity

 We see it in our day to day lives at every turn.  Yet sadly, we also see it as we shuffle in and out of the average American church, where outside of some religious trappings that make the average Joe appear to be on the right track, most observe what many have called a “moralistic, therapeutic deism” which inoculates us from getting the real thing of those who were first called “followers of the way”.   God has therefore been fashioned into our image and fits nicely inside of our creation of Him within the framework of our understanding of what it means to have what we call life, liberty, and some lofty pursuit of an ever-elusive happiness.  And though this proposed bliss continually escapes our grasp, it continually propels us onward to achieving it at all costs as it were.  And thus, we truly are working day and night.  We work our fingers to the bone hoping and wishing upon a star to “win” and get through life somehow unscathed.  And while we do so, if we are not careful, we will miss the food that Jesus says we know not of by at least a country mile.

Hidden in Plain Sight

And as I have thought about this, and meditating upon my own pursuit of the hiding God throughout my journey on the narrow path, I understand why most of us never realize what the rat race is doing to us until the Dr. reminds us to begin setting our house in order, or until the undertaker has now been passed the baton.  For like the tyranny of the urgent in our lives, the pursuit of the food Jesus speaks of will also cost us everything.  An irony to be sure.  For sitting at the feet of the Master is a daily practice, rewarded in carefully rationed bite-size morsels oftentimes until it truly begins to “get into us”.  And equally, as more and more we realize through many dips and turns, toils and snares, that our broken cisterns actually hold no water to speak of, until His ever patient chisel has forged into us a critical understanding that a mere day in the Lord’s presence is better than a thousand elsewhere.  And this slow burn only comes to those who have in desperation grabbed a hold of His garment with an eternal vice grip, and who as a result, eventually come to know it as the actual living water, and the oft missing food of which by daily ingesting we shall never, ever thirst or hunger again!.  And though it will not sell enough tickets to the show we’re relentlessly shuffled into, it is the most wonderful truth in the cosmos for those who have ears to hear.  And yet, as you might have now guessed, there are actually very few that find it!

Selah