This is the day when Americans celebrate our national independence. We give thanks to God that we have been allowed to have this freedom. We are free! We can speak, think, travel, believe, and do as we please. That is what freedom is all about. And yet the age we live in, is not known for its freedom but for our anxiety. We are anxious about many things: Having enough money. Having good health. Being secure and safe.
Most of us define freedom as “being free to do what we want.” But my question is, “Are we really free?” Are we free to do what we want? Is freedom even good for us?
Our Western concept of freedom comes from a mixture of two teachings on freedom. The middle eastern concept of freedom was a socio-political freedom. The Jewish community did not like to be under the control of the Roman empire, even when life was really better for them under Roman authority. For them freedom was a political issue. The European concept of freedom is not so much political as it is personal attitudes. The Greeks and Romans valued freedom of thought much more than political freedom. Viktor Frankl wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning. He found that even amid the horrors of a Nazi prison, when all freedom was taken away, there were some prisoners who remained strangely , free. He found that the greatest freedom was to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.
Most of us have difficulty with freedom, we abuse and we misuse it. Oh, we want our freedom and our liberty, but when we have it we don’t know what to do with it. (Romans 7:14-20) We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. When Paul became a Christian he was set free! He didn’t have the weight of all the ceremonial laws. He didn’t have the detail of all the Jewish laws. For Paul it was a paradox: To be free and yet continue to sin and do what you shouldn’t do. But that helped Paul understand “grace.”
Paul expresses a concern about being UNEQUALLY YOKED in marriage. A relationship with God is a lot like a marriage. Time magazine reported (1/22/95) that the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, occurred when two plates on a fault line fifteen miles offshore suddenly shifted against each other, violently lurching six to ten feet in opposite directions. Thousands died. More than 46,000 buildings lay in ruins. One-fifth of the city’s population was left instantly homeless. Two people committed to each other but going in different directions can only lead to trouble. The same with God.
I think at the heart of the gospel there is a paradoxical claim that only as our lives are linked to Christ, only as our lives are bent toward his will, that we are free. St. Augustine first noted this when he was a young man converted to Christ. While young he lived a rather carefree life and even had a child out of wedlock. He noted that freedom means to be free, not to do what we want to do, but rather to be free to be whom God intends us to be.
A young man in a parish I served became an attorney. He was invited by a big law firm for an interview. A member of the firm casually mentioned that one of their clients was a company that ran all of the video poker and gambling operations in the state. “There are a number of questions which are up for grabs, but that’s not one of them.” I believe that such activities are a sign of bad government and are wrong.” “But its all legal.” “It may be legal, but it is not ethical.”
Who is free in this story? The one trapped in the system? Or the young man that knows who he is and to whom he belongs?
Do you really want to taste freedom? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. There are a lot of us who are weary and burdened. We understand the pain of life and are not really free. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. The “yoke” Jesus refers to is well illustrated by the process of training a young bullock to plow. In some parts of the world, the farmer will have the young bullock harnessed to the same yoke as a mature ox. The bullock, dwarfed by the other animal, will not even be pulling any of the weight. It is merely learning to walk in a field under control and with a yoke around its neck; the ox pulls all the weight. It is the same when a believer takes Christ’s yoke. As the Christian learns, the yoke is easy and the burden light.
Freedom comes when you know who owns you. Robert Browning was right when he wrote, “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!” Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”