Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.
I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.”
They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
In the readings of our Lenten journey, Jesus’ life is coming toward the end, and he knows it. Even people who were trying to believe in him were testy: “We have never been in slavery to anyone. What do you mean by saying ‘You will become free’?” As often, they didn’t grasp the deep import of his words, which had nothing to do with the rule of their Roman conquerors. So he explained it: “everyone who commits sin is a slave!”
There it was: the re-statement of why he had come into the world – to free human beings from the true source of unfreedom: to save us from our sins. Our heaviest chains aren’t those that may bind our hands and feet, they are the ones that imprison our wills. Paul describes the slavery of sin vividly: “the good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will.” And then he groans in a way we easily recognize: “Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?” In today’s passage, Jesus answered that question: “If …the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.”
I have an advantage of hindsight Jesus’ hearers then did not. I know that Jesus went to his death to set us free definitively. This Lent I have been trying, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to symbolize my openness to the grace he won for us. I still have time to spend with Jesus as he walks toward Calvary. “Lord, wash me from my sins! Cleanse me from all my iniquity!”
—Fr. John J. O’Callaghan, S.J. is senior chaplain for the health sciences division at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood IL.
Lord, give me the grace to turn to you when I doubt that you will grant my heart what it desires. Give me an openness to the suffering that comes with growth. And rid me of my arrogance that causes me to forget you.
—The Jesuit Prayer Team