Paul Laurence Dunbar, an American poet of the early 20th century, wrote a wonderful poem called “Sympathy” and the third stanza is powerful in it’s pathos and beauty and heart-breaking truth:
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.
Instinctively, we humans sense we were made for freedom, not slavery. But slavery rarely is sustained from mere brute, outside, force. No, the deepest slavery; the most tragic slavery; the most difficult kind of slavery results when that “something” inside a man dies and he resigns himself to his inner prison. This kind of slavery counts outward “freedoms” meaningless. Every civil right can be granted someone. Every means to leave the external prison of confinement can be available, and the prisoner may even exit his cell, but the prison cell inside a man’s heart is the deepest slavery known.
The truth is we all are terrified and sometimes even resigned to the lie we will never be truly free!
No wonder the people of Jesus’ day thought “some new teaching” had come among them when they saw the Lord liberate a man with an “unclean spirit.
Look at Mark 1:23-28: At that time, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
You see, the people of Jesus’ day had the unique revelation of the One True God. They had the centuries of their nation being shaped and educated and formed by the solid truth of their faith. They had a unique place in the world and even the calling of God to be “a chosen people” of all the tribes of the earth precisely to show the rest of humanity the way to restored relationship with humanity’s Creator. They had all these benefits, this true spiritual freedom, and yet, because of their political situation, they had abandoned the inner freedom that gave them the hope that true freedom was possible. They proved the old saying true that liberty is always one generation away from being lost.
But Jesus stood before them as the shining example of a truly FREE Human. And the “unclean spirits” that enslaved the humans around Him to their spiritual poverty, their destructive habits, their life-threatening desires, all untamed and enslaving the people to fear and death, had conned the whole world in believing there was no hope. Then Jesus, the FREE HUMAN, the God-Man, come to restore true humanity, uncovered and set as spectacle the weakness of that self-imposed inner slavery! Jesus set the man FREE.
Today, what enslaves you? What fears keep you imprisoned in the lie of “It will never be better” or “I can’t rise above this”? What excuses are you using to strengthen the bars of your own inner prison? What lies weigh your soul down and cloud any feelings of hope or encouragement? You were made to be free, but not merely the political freedom of this or that “legislation” as if you were merely a being of “I can do anything I want”. No, you were meant to experience the inner freedom that makes you free even if they lock you away in a physical prison, even if they persecute you and take your “civil rights,” even if they take your physical life.” This freedom that you are given by Christ today makes you truly free no matter your outward circumstances.
And that freedom, my dearest, is a freedom that lasts eternally long after any earthly freedoms have crumbled into the irrelevance of their time-bound poverty. So, I know why the caged bird sings. It sings because it knows the freedom of hope and love!