13th Sunday - C- 2019. (30th June)
1 Kings 19: 16-21. Gal 5:13-18. Luke. 9: 51-62.
I lived for more than 20 years in Sierra Leone. Its past history can’t be told without including the horror of the slave trade. So many of its peoples were forcibly taken to the Americas. It is also a country to which liberated slaves were returned. The name of its capital city, Freetown, is a constant reminder of how the loss and gain of freedom is embedded in the psyche of its people to this day. And if there is a key word for understanding the yearnings of those and indeed any people or nation, that word is freedom.
Slavery is not a think of the past. All around us, often despite appearances to the contrary, are people living in bondage - people held hostage by corrupt political regimes, by addictions and mental illness, by poverty and hunger. There are people imprisoned by dangerous influences, ignorance, fear, religious superstitions and evil propaganda.
And all of us, free as we may seem are captives to different masters and for different reasons. There is no one who does not want to be free from someone or something. That ‘some one’ could be God. Who us have not at sometime tried to avoid God?
I can relate to those words of Francis Thompson in ‘the hound of heaven’ -
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him
So here is a truth worth prayerful pondering - ‘Freedom costs.’ Its cost invariably is the sacrificial commitment of ourselves to peace, justice and love. We are most truly free when we anchor our souls in the presence of God. When we bind our will to the will of God; when we submit our hopes to the promises of God. That is one hell of a challenge. But it’s made by Paul in his letter to the Galatians (today’s 2nd reading) and it begins, “Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free and don’t get all tied up again in the chains of slavery.”
Now Christ could never have made us free, if he, himself, was not free. And that’s the second truth to be pondered - the freest person who ever lived was Jesus of Nazareth.
He knew what it was to be free in all the ways we are not. There was freedom from: the kind of insecurity and keeps us needing to prove ourselves and justify our existence. Jesus was secure enough in his mission and message that, as in today’s Gospel reading, he could let a rich young possible disciple walk away. He could let his disciples betray and deny and desert him.
the weight of other people’s expectations. We clergy are plagued with this. How, by allowing others to determine how we see ourselves and how we behave. We contrive together to create assumptions about ministry - that we are always available and don’t need privacy and we are prayerful, enjoy work, are not shocked, etc.. Such assumptions, which are part of clericalism, become the expectations that determine how we live.
How different Jesus was - free of expectations to be a political/military Messiah, to be a king. He was free from the outmoded and irrelevant traditions and conventions of his religion and culture, for example, there was a higher law than Sabbath law. He was free enough to sit at Jacob’s well and speak with a Samaritan woman with a scandalous reputation and tell her that God loved her.
But what was the secret of Jesus’ freedom? It was not in the courage to face Pilate and accept a cruel death. It is not in his wisdom, which 2000 years later, we have never exhausted. It was not in the annihilation of all forms of bondage and constraints. It was in what I already mentioned:
commitment to peace and justice
anchoring himself in the presence of God
binding his will to God’s will
submitting his hopes to God’s promises
commitment to love.
That latter creates a kind of bondage - to committed relationships (ask someone who has been happily married for 50 years!) to compassion.
The love of Christ does constrain us. It’s encircles, holds us and sets limits. But it is the only way to true freedom. Jesus’ freedom challenges us. He was the freest person who ever lived.