Janis Joplin had a hit record after her death in 1971 called “Me and Bobby McGee” that had a line that said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Kind of a depressing thought, but then again, the song is about the memory of a happier time and the loss of that time, so I guess that makes sense.
The whole concept of freedom is at the heart of most of human history, the loss of it, the hunger for it, the celebration of it, or the suppression of it. The idea of “freedom” seems to be ingrained in the way we humans think.
And that makes sense because we were created in the Image of God, Who is Free. He is unconstrained by any necessity. He is the Source of being and He is free. In fact, He is beyond being and non-being because He creates being! I know, it gives me a headache too! Making us in His image, He instilled within us that which is like Himself. No wonder the Declaration of Independence declares “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
All of human history can be summed up in the struggle for freedom.
But what is Freedom? Is it the right to do anything I want to do? Well, do that sometime and see if you end up free. No, freedom isn’t the right to do anything you want to do. Freedom is the joy of becoming who you are in the light of Who He is. All other pursuits of any other kind of freedom lead you to a dead end. Always!
In our Gospel Lesson today, our Lord Jesus is trying to communicate this message to the religious leaders of His day. Look at Matthew 12:1-8:
At that time, Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.”
Jesus is dealing with criticism of His disciples for plucking some grain in a wheat field on the Sabbath, which was, technically, a violation of the laws of the Sabbath. The Lord, once again, attempts to get past the stubborn blindness of these religious leaders and their unforgiving slavery to mere rule keeping. The Lord does this by making a shocking announcement: “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here!”
Something greater indeed. The “something greater” the Lord refers to is the very Incarnation of the Free and Uncreated God standing right there in front of these men, offering them the freedom they have traded for something less. He is standing in front of them, and us, extending His offer of the hard road towards abandoning the slavery of illusions and reaching the place of authenticity and spiritual maturity in communion with Him. Learning how to embrace that path of true freedom is the only work you and I will ever do that is truly worth the efforts of our lives. All of your gifts, all of your time, even all of your resources, were given to you to learn this way of life. Wasting any of these treasures, both spiritual and physical, on anything less or anything smaller is a tragedy of eternal significance.
Today, as we get ready to hear over and over again “Let Freedom Ring” and we sing patriotic songs and shoot off fireworks and grill hamburgers on the grill and eat potato salad (Southern style, if you please), let’s have the courage to see beyond mere political “freedom” to the freedom offered to us by our Free God. Let us take the path of disciplined formation that teaches even our very bodies how to acclimate to that place of freedom we are all moving towards, and let us become Orthodox on Purpose so that, having done the hard work of becoming free, we will be able to join in those powerful words “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”