Gospel & Homily Transcript
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.”
They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!”
So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”
The Truth Will Set You Free Transcript
As I was praying about the gospel this morning, I heard something in the very opening sentence of John chapter 8 verse 31 that I had never recognized before. “Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him.” This is a very confrontational passage and I just assumed that this is one of those other passages of Jesus confronting the Pharisees who are doubting him and testing him and antagonizing him and seeking his death. But no. This is a passage of those who have proclaimed their belief in Jesus.
Jesus tests that faith and it’s found wanting because he challenges them. He begins with this statement of, “if you believe in me, you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples—not just on your lips, but if you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth. Your minds will be open to the truth and that will set you free.”
Well that sets his disciples teeth on edge. They become immediately defensive. ‘What are you talking about? We’re not slaves. We’re free. We can do whatever we want.’ Does that sound strangely familiar? We who live in the land of the brave and the home of the free… Give me liberty or give me death… Is there anything more precious to us as Americans than our freedom? I believe that Jesus is speaking to us today because we’re blind in the ways in which we are enslaved. Just as those who believed in Jesus—those who were following him—were blind to the ways in which they were enslaved.
Jesus says, “if you remain in my word, only then will you be free,” because Jesus is the truth. All sin is an allusion. Remember, the theologians talk about Satan as the father of lies. That goes way back to the beginnings of sin entering the world and the story of Genesis chapter 3 where Satan deceives Eve and deceives Adam by flattering their egos. Obey me and disobey God and you will be like gods. Sin is always an illusion and when we listen to the devil we are listening to the father of lies, not to the truth that Jesus wants us to have and has come into this world to reveal. When we sin we become ensnared. We lose our freedom.
This is an image that I find particularly helpful in that regard. St. Ignatius in The Spiritual Exercises says that we need to exercise our soul so that we can recognize the ways in which we are attached; the ways in which we are not free. It’s like placing your hand here [places his hand on the lectern] and becoming attached or placing your hand here and becoming attached and you say, ‘What you talking about? I’m free. I can go wherever I want to go.’ Will take your hand off. ‘Why would I want to take my hand off? I like my hand on the podium you know it’s very restful. I’m a free person I can go wherever I want [Keeps hand on podium but walks around it.] I can go down, I can reach up, I can go wherever I want.’ Well take your hand off. ‘Okay, sure I can take my hand off. [Raises hand slightly then puts it back.] See absolutely I am a free person. I can go over here. I can go. I can do this [Switches hands.] I can do this. Take my hand off? You want me to take… I can take my hand off there’s no problem, see okay there I took my hand off. I’m free. I can go. Okay. Yep, I’m free. Did I prove it?
We’re blind to the ways in which we are attached. It’s only the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can see the ways in which we are not living in the truth; in the ways we in which we are not free. The society in which Jesus lived—which was a society that was badly divided—they all claimed to be children of Abraham, but they were divided into ideological camps: theological differences, political differences. The Essenes lived by themselves. They said everybody else was impure and so, ‘We are the chosen ones. We are the ones who are really the children of Abraham.’ And so they chose to go out into the desert. The Pharisees were the ones that said, ‘We’re the ones who abide by the Law. We’re the ones who understand what this means. The Sadducees were the ones who were scurrying about the Temple. They spent all their time in cultic practices. And the Zealots were the ones who said, ‘Let’s blow up the Romans because they’re our problem.
Four major divisions in Jesus’s time. Each one claiming to be the true children of Abraham. We look at our society today and we see ourselves badly divided along political and religious and ideological lines. Each one of us acting with blinders and convinced that we see the truth. Again I come back to the first point that I made. The people that Jesus is arguing with today are people who believed in him; who were following him. When he challenged them to recognize the ways in which they were not free, they immediately became defensive and tried to kill him.
Isn’t that ironic? The people who said, ‘We’re following you. We understand you. We believe you.’ end up trying to kill him because their belief was about that deep and when challenged what was really operating was their egos.
Our first reading today is taken from the book of the prophet Daniel and you get these three great men of faith who are challenged by the evil king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. It’s all about Nebuchadnezzar’s ego. He makes this statue and he orders everybody: “Bow down and worship it.” Did he really believe in that? I doubt that he did because he fashioned it himself. It was about power. “Follow me or else.”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand up to him and they say, ‘We’re going to praise our God and maybe he’s going to save us and maybe he isn’t, but we’re sure as heck not going to follow you.’ And what our reading today—and the redaction from the lectionary leaves out—is that when they’re thrown into the fiery furnace, what they do is they praise God. In the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the fire, in the midst of the storm, they choose to praise God. That’s faith.
Many of us will pray before we’re in the fire or we’ll pray after we’re in the fire, but when we’re in the midst of the fire, if we do pray, its, “Hey God, I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this. This isn’t my fault.” They’re prayer is a prayer of praise. They’re prayer is a prayer of thanks, even in the midst of being surrounded by the flames. That’s extraordinary faith. God rewards that faith and sends his angel to protect them.
It would be hard to overestimate in my own life the way that Mary’s apparitions at Medjugorje have deeply influenced me. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that I wonder whether I would be a priest today had I not gone to Medjugorje and felt mother Mary drawing me in a much deeper way to the Lord Jesus and revealing to me the ways in which I was caught in my own lies, caught in my own egos, caught in my own addictions.
In Lent Tekton Ministries has been sending out a daily Marian message from Medjugorje that has been compiled over the years. I was rather astounded when I read this message today that had such a one to one correspondence with our gospel text today. It’s a message that Our Lady gave to the children of Medjugorje dated January 25, 2016. “Dear children, Today I am calling all of you to prayer. You cannot live without prayer because prayer is a chain which brings you closer to God. Therefore little children, in humility of heart, return to God and to his commandments so that with all your heart you are able to say, ‘So as it is in heaven so may it be on earth.’ You little children are in freedom to decide for God or against God. See where Satan wants to pull you into sin and slavery. Therefore little children, return to my heart so that I can lead you to my son Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
Do you hear the echoes in today’s gospel? Mother Mary begins by reminding us that we can’t live without prayer and we cannot know Jesus without deep prayer. Thank you for being here today. I hope this is not the only active prayer in the course of this day. It’s like the oxygen that we breath, says mother Mary.
The devil comes to enslave us. Jesus comes to set our hearts free. Let’s pray for the grace to know the truth that is Jesus. To see the ways in which we are caught and to live every day in the deep union asking mother Mary and all the holy angels and saints to bring us closer to that source of life. Amen? Amen.