SPYING ON THE FREEDOM THAT WE HAVE IN JESUS CHRIST
In February 2003, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, started his enthronement sermon at the Canterbury Cathedral with the following witty introduction: “It's sometimes been said that if someone came up to you in the street and whispered, 'They've found out! Run!, nine out of ten of us would. We nearly all have secrets that we don't want exposed.” It raised the intended laughter of over two thousand people comprising all sections of the society including royalty, statesmen, church hierarchy, and ordinary parishioners; it made everyone curious to find out what the Archbishop had in mind. It took further ten minutes or so for him to reveal what the secret that he had been thinking about; the secret was that “We are made to be God's children and to find our most profound freedom in surrender to him.” Freedom is a fundamental concept and concern for St. Paul. The New Testament scholar, Barrett, says that “Paul’s theology is nothing if it is not a theology of freedom.”
What is the theology of freedom in Christ? St. Paul preached this idea of freedom more than most and it can be traced to two verses in Galatians chapter five: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1). “You my brothers are called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (5.13). The foundation of Paul’s idea of freedom is his conversion experience of unmerited grace of God of he being chosen, called and commissioned especially as an apostle. For Paul, everything begins with Christ; it is Christ who initiated the encounter with him for designing and directing his freedom including the freedom from the bondage of the law. It is indeed a process and a life long project for Paul. His letter to Galatians is mostly about his struggles against circumcision as a mark of their newly found faith. He insisted that faith is a gift, a grace, and not an external ritual but an inner commitment to God. This freedom originates from the realisation that we are children of God. At the heart of this freedom is the unconditional love of God for His children. This is a type of freedom that we understand in our everyday interactions with our parents in our family life; it is so simple and uncomplicated. Therefore, in Jesus we have the freedom to enjoy the brotherhood and sisterhood of everyone that we come across. This freedom is not a licence for doing what we want to do, but to submit ourselves to the will of the Father as Jesus himself showed us.
We carry with us a responsibility for this inheritance of being blessed as the children of God. The Archbishop highlighted this in the following way in his sermon: “Once we recognise God's great secret, that we are all made to be God's sons and daughters, we can't avoid the call to see one another differently. No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We can't assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don't count in the world's terms (the old, the unborn, and the disabled). And this is what unsettles our loyalties, conservative or liberal, right wing or left, national or international. We have to learn to be human alongside all sorts of others, the ones whose company we don't greatly like, the ones we didn't choose, because Jesus is drawing us together into his place, into his company.” Thus, beyond confines of denominational laws and restrictions or existing demarcation lines between faith communities, we need to find and operate God’s love and enjoy wider ecumenism. It is in this freedom we break walls of division; it is in this freedom we see the beauty of demolishing our ego boundaries, which we so carefully and painstakingly build up from cradle to grave; it is in this freedom we realise ‘sodharma’ in the context of ‘viswadharma.’ The infinite reality of Jesus entered the finite history of mankind for us to understand and enjoy the unlimited freedom that we have in Jesus in the very simple and innocent reality of a father and child relationship.
Jesus turned to the Jews who boasted to believe in him and said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8: 31-32). So if Jesus sets us free, we are free through and through. But even Paul experienced spies who tried to prevent him experiencing this freedom in Jesus and we read about in Galatians Chapter 2 verse 4: “This matter arose, because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and make us slaves.” The matter in this text was about compulsion put on Paul to circumcise Titus. Their ulterior motive was to spoil Paul’s mission to Gentiles. But Paul did not give them the opportunity because he was determined to preach the good news, the message about God’s kingdom, the cross, the resurrection, faith, justification and grace. Even today some Christian sects would like to impose their yoke of their rules upon others and bring them into bondage to their way of thinking.
What are equivalents of these spies who endeavour to take away our freedom in Christ? It is an important question for us to mull over. We have modern day Pharisees who are experts on constitutional clauses of our churches and fellowships who will go to any extremes to maintain their power and influence over people. There are others who have intolerance about people outside their immediate influence; they also interfere with our freedom in Jesus Christ. Ritualistic Christianity fundamentally misrepresents the gift that Jesus made available to us. Ritualism turns Christianity from a joyous, exciting personal relationship with God to an impersonal, lifeless system of ceremonies that make God a distant figure. Then there are religious cults where their versions of the manifestoes are more important than that of Jesus’ love-entrenched faith.
Even within our own churches there are people with vested interests who try to silence good people who have the ability to critically analyse situations for the good of the community. It is also very common to demand attendance and involvement in certain style of group activities as a measure of one’s faithfulness to God. We need to be vigilant about these influences to fight them with care and consideration to continue our journey with Christ. The freedom that we enjoy in Jesus Christ is always guided by love, and this love will guide us not to use freedom arrogantly, but always use the freedom with humility and responsibility for the common good of the community. But enjoying this freedom is not easy; it will cost us much because we will be often misunderstood by others as a loose canon and as people that got away from true religion and faith. But once we begin to enjoy this freedom through the grace of God, do not let anyone or any system take it away from us. This freedom is an amazing expression of God’s unconditional love for His Children.
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