The following post is a reflection given to accompany the daily readings of Wednesday 5th April (Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95 and John 8:31-42 )
With all the excitement and experiences of my recent experiment, it’s variety of locations and the many different people and communities I have met, I admit to feeling a little disconnected or distracted from the season of Lent. For me, today’s reading and Gospel are great invitations to us all to reconnect to Lent and prepare ourselves for the Holy Week which is approaching.
Jesus Christ reminds us in the Gospel that taking the route of sin leads to slavery and taking the route of faith leads to freedom. And so we get a good insight into a powerful aspect of Lent: Lent is an invitation to freedom.
Jesus’ argument today is as follows: “If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free”. So 1) Listen to my word, 2) Become my disciples, 3) learn the truth, 4) freedom. It sounds easy. It seems simple, but it is made difficult by sin.
The temptation to sin was offered repeatedly in the first reading by King Nebuchadnezzar. “Worship the golden statue I have erected… Prostrate yourselves and worship the statue I have made”. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego we are repeatedly tempted by the world around us, often by those portrayed as successful in our culture, to follow their example, to act like them against our better judgement. We are told that it’s better for us, more convenient, more normal, more pleasurable than the alternative. The decision of faith can often, at face value, seem like a less attractive, strange, terrifying or even impossible option. Yet today Jesus reminds us: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave” and unfortunately we all slip into this self-imposed slavery at times.
In front of 200,000 people at St Peter’s Square in 2013 for the Evangelium Vitae celebrations, Pope Francis warned those in the crowd: “All too often people do not choose life, they do not accept the “Gospel of Life” but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power, and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others… It is the idea that rejecting God, the message of Christ, the Gospel of Life, will somehow lead to freedom, to complete human fulfilment. As a result, the Living God is replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death”.
Now usually if we receive an invitation, an invitation to a birthday party or a vow ceremony, we are asked to RSVP. Repondez Si Vous Plait. So if Lent is an invitation to freedom, how are we to respond?
Perhaps the most striking image concocted in the first reading is the three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around freely in the fire with a forth man, an angel of God. Well, actually what jumped out at me was the conversion that takes place in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar. He goes from teasing the men “where is your God who could save you from my power?” to exclaiming “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”. What does this teach us? Well I think that it shows us that by standing fearlessly for what we believe in, contrary to the world that surrounds us, we can provide a powerful witness to our faith. We can evangelise others through our example of strong faith, not just be inspired ourselves by others’ examples. And I’m sure that, in various ways, the witness of our faith in action that we have each given during our experiments is being felt now by those we spent much time with but now find ourselves apart from. So in one way, we’ve already begun to respond to our Lenten invitation. How else can we do it?
To return one final time to today’s Gospel, Jesus tells those present that: “You want to kill me because nothing I say has penetrated into you… You want to kill me when I tell you the truth…” So, in response, I propose that to truly respond to this Lenten invitation to freedom we need to ask ourselves the following two questions: ‘Where in my life am I not allowing Jesus’ words to penetrate into me? Where in my life am I turning away from the truth Jesus has revealed?’ For me, these are how we can reconnect to Lent and prepare ourselves for a challenging yet intimate Holy Week.
And in case you’re unsure with my suggestions, here are the words of the Very Reverend Robert Barron on this subject of freedom:
“Christ Jesus is not someone whose reign depends on our approval. We should not be able to vote him out of office if we don’t agree with his commands. Rather, he demands to be the Lord of every aspect of our lives. And if you still harbour suspicions of what submitting to this king would entail, take a good look at him. He reigns not from a pompous throne, but from an instrument of torture; he wears not a gaudy crown of gold, but a bloody crown of thorns; he issues not peremptory commands, but words of promise: ‘This day you shall be with me in paradise’. Don’t be afraid to submit every aspect of your life to this king, for his power empowers you and his command liberates you.”