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Liberating Gospels (April 24)

Uniform Lesson for April 24, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: John 8:31-38

We now move into Eastertide with the good news of the Paschal Lamb’s rising ringing in our ears. But how does Jesus’ liberation from the tomb translate into liberation for those who follow him? Remember what Jesus says to Lazarus as he is stumbling out of his tomb, still wrapped in burial cloths? “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44). How does Jesus unbind us and set us free today?

We have never been slaves

Perhaps the most astounding verse in this week’s passage is the outcry of the crowd in verse 33: “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” Really? What about Egypt? What about their experience with rapacious kings and manipulative priests who took their sons for their armies, their daughters for their harems, and the best of
their flocks for their sacrifices
(1 Samuel 8)? What about the years in Babylon where they were forced to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land (Psalm 137)? How quickly we forget past slaveries and our bondage to current captors!

The truth of the matter is this: to be human is to be enslaved. Every person alive is captive to some power or structure over which she is, in some sense, powerless. For some, it’s status and fame. For others, it’s the structures of society, which close some people out, and give others a leg up. For all of us, it’s our inability to get clear of our own fears, selfishness and preoccupations with the future. The Study Catechism puts it like this: “Having ruined our connection with God by disobeying God’s will, we are persons with hearts curved in upon ourselves. We have become slaves to the sin of which we are guilty, helpless to save ourselves, and are free, so far as freedom remains, only within the bounds of sin” (Question 20).

The first step in knowing Jesus is knowing ourselves. “Slaves we are!” goes our repeated confession. But God comes constantly to set us free.

The truth will set you free

Knowing that God sets us free, Jesus later declares himself in John to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), Jesus’ declaration regarding knowing “the truth” (v. 32) must be an invitation to relationship. Over and over again in John’s Gospel, those who would follow Jesus are urged to “abide” in him. Through fellowship with Jesus, his disciples are offered fellowship with God. Out of such a life-giving relationship, they are “set free” — not to follow their own pride and preferences but to join in the way of Jesus. By so doing, they become members of God’s household and heirs of Christ’s promise. Unlike the slave Ishmael, who was unjustly cast out by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21), they are now declared children of God’s promise and gain their “place” in the household “forever” (v. 35). It is this unearned membership within Jesus’ flock that wins these sheep freedom from the fears and powers that once bound them. They are slaves/servants no longer, for Jesus has called them his “friends” (John 15:15).

No place in you for my word

Rumbling beneath this week’s passage is John’s wrestling with Jesus’ rejection by the political and religious leaders of his day. This is framed as the “problem of the Jews.” Let us be on our guard. How quickly the good news of liberation can become an excuse for acts of persecution and re-enslavement! The challenges to “continue in [Jesus’] word” (v. 31), and “to do what you have heard from the Father” (v. 38), are challenges that confront us all. There is something in the human heart that prefers slavery to things we understand rather than freedom within a relationship we cannot control.

That is why the freedom of discipleship is often described as less a freedom from something or someone and more as a freedom for something or someone. Jesus comes to take away one yoke in order to replace it with another. Jesus would unbind and set us free from a yoke of endless striving and competition and worry in order to give us another yoke comprised of love of God and love of neighbor. Compared to all others plans and purposes for living, Jesus’ disciples will find this yoke easy and its burden light. Through their relationship with this master, they will find release from their burdens, rest from their toil, and freedom from all that binds them (compare Matthew 11:28-30).

For discussion:

Bob Dylan once sang “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” How this true for you?


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