Friday, 28 June 2019

ST. JOHN 8:33-36


Lectio divina, that is, divine meaning, is to approach Sacred Scripture not as a text, like the words of some technical journal, work of history, or a novel, but as living words not to be read, studied, but to see them, hear them, take them in, allow them to penetrate, transform our mind, heart, soul.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit and requires our cooperation, hence before opening to any book, page, line of Sacred Scripture we should ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance, without which we can fall into various errors, such as literalism which reduces Sacred Scripture to some sort of human record and distorts the living word.

So-called creationists fall into this error and do enormous harm thereby for their literalist interpretation reduces the marvel of all that is, of all that we are, to a type of magic trick, whereas the reality of all that is and all that we are is because the Most Holy Trinity in a creative explosion of love and divine delicacy, ex nihilo, more than just ‘out of nothing’, but from the stupendous reality of there being no-thing created some-thing, and all that was not became!

It matters not a wit how long the process of creation did or did not take.

What matters is the truth that creation is, we are, no mere ‘one of’, rather all that has been created is being creatively sustained by the same love which created and creates – for each newborn human being is a new creation, for God Himself breathes Himself into the matter originally created as Adam and Eve and sustains this marvel of the human person so that each time the original matter becomes conjoined anew between a man and woman LIFE is breathed into the matter anew and a PERSON becomes in the Trinity’s own image and likeness.

Had those challenging Jesus not been scriptural literalists they would have understood, allowed with joy to penetrate their hearts His word assuring them they would come to know the truth, that is come to know Him and that this knowing would set them free.

Instead they rejected not only His words but Jesus Himself with their challenge: They answered Him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?” [v. 33]

Part of the willful arrogance here is not simply these are the people of the Exodus and Babylonian captivity, but they were currently living under Roman occupation!

Ever patient with such challenges Jesus seeks to help them understand, to help us all understand, our notion of what is meant by freedom is too narrow, in a sense too materialist. We assume it primarily is a matter of freedom from external oppression/slavery, when the reality is freedom was lost with original sin and each time we choose sin we choose real enslavement/imprisonment.

V.34=Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.”

Often in modern translations of passages where Jesus uses the double amen, we find the words ‘verily’ or ‘truly’, some use ‘most assuredly’ - accurate translations, however Jewish custom at the time was only to use amen after a blessing-prayer. Jesus’ use is not only to underscore the importance of His teaching, but also to remind us He is Himself ultimate prayer to the Father and that being in constant intimate dialogue with the Father every teaching is itself a blessing.

V.35= “A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.”

There are two ways in which a human being becomes a slave. One is external and imposed by another, the other way we become slaves is through what we do to ourselves, enslave ourselves to sins, some mortal, some venial and as varied as addiction to pleasure, poisoned thinking about ourselves or others. Tragically the variety of sin of which we humans are capable is as varied as we are. 

Regarding the first form of enslavement, to assume that sin of the massive form of slavery prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular with the kidnapping and selling of our brothers and sisters from Africa to various owners throughout the western hemisphere, ended when first Canada, then the rest of the British Empire, then the US outlawed slavery, is to be ignorant of ongoing human trafficking, where men, women and children become slaves to factory owners, wealthy families, prostitution rings, groups which use children as soldiers.

The Church reminds us in the Catechism: The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord."  [ cf. # 2414 ]

As Christians we have an explicit obligation under charity and justice, if we are aware, for example, of someone indentured in domestic service, to report this to the authorities. Charity and justice also demand we help as best we can those charitable organizations that work to end slavery and human trafficking.

When it comes to being enslaved ourselves in sin, freedom comes from asking for metanoia, true conversion of heart, for which we have access in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer, fasting, and where the sin is some form of addiction groups like Alcoholic Anonymous, and similar groups for drug, sex, anger addicts, are excellent ways of working towards being freed some such slavery, especially if such effort is combined with the help of a priest-spiritual director.

When Jesus teaches us: a son always remains, He Himself is the living example of the freedom of being a child of God, dwelling forever in the house of our Father. Granted here on earth it is to dwell in the house of trust in Jesus’s promise: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be.” [14: 1-3]

V: 36= “So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

This is no mere amnesty such as that which Lincoln granted the slaves in the United States during the Civil War. Indeed, whatever a human authority grants such authority can rescind just as easily.

Again, when Jesus uses the word ‘son’ He speaks of Himself and we can hear in this, and many other passages, the intensity of His love, the very ‘sitio’ He has, to set us free. Freedom is a gift of the Holy Trinity through Jesus laying down His life for us to redeem us.

© 2018 Fr. Arthur Joseph

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