I was fortunate enough to get to preach this sermon at St. William Catholic Church for their Wednesday Lenten services. Thanks so much to my friends in Christ for inviting me – it was a beautiful service!
I have a friend who is always speaking her mind. Maybe you have a friend like this, too – one who is always saying out loud things that most people keep to themselves. Over time this friend has said so many things that were so outrageously blunt that she earned a nickname:
Today’s Scripture makes me think this ought to be Jesus’ nickname, too. Actually, he says as much in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” But here he’s talking back and forth with some Jews who believed in him, explaining some of the ramifications of his trueness.
He starts off by telling them that if they continue in his word, then it follows that they will really be his disciples; and if they’re really his disciples, then they’ll know the truth; and if they really know the truth, the truth will set them free.
Which of course makes me think of the X Files.
You know, the TV show from the 90s that just got a revival in a six-episode mini-series. This is the one that follows FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they investigate bizarre cases that often involve aliens or government conspiracy… or, sometimes, the government working with aliens in a conspiracy. At the beginning of almost every episode an almost prophetic line flashes across the screen:
And Mulder and Scully (well, mostly Mulder) seek the truth as though discovering it will somehow save them. If they just knew the truth it might save Mulder’s sister or Scully’s baby or maybe even the whole human race. The truth is out there, somewhere, and when they find it… it’ll set them free.
But that isn’t the truth Jesus is talking about. And if Mulder and Scully might have been confused by Jesus’ declaration, so too were the Jews who believed in him. “We’re Abraham’s descendants,” they say. “We’ve never been slaves.” God saved their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. They remember that at every Passover meal. Who is Jesus to say they need to be set free?
Except that they do. For starters, as they speak Israel is under occupation by Rome. They are not free, and the Jewish believers seem to have forgotten that, have become momentarily blind to it. They’re blind to another kind of slavery as well, and that’s the one that Jesus points to.
“Anyone who sins is a slave to sin,” Jesus says. And hey – I get that. There are those sins we commit that we keep going back to as though we’re shackled to them with chains. Like how we’ll say every day, “No more snacking after dinner!” and then every night, about 8:30, we stick some popcorn in the microwave… stuff like that, except darker and more harmful. We quickly become slaves to sin.
But if we continue in Jesus’ word we’ll become his disciples, and if we become his disciples we’ll know the truth, and if we know the truth we’ll be set free from sin.
And yet the Jews are still confused. (Let’s be honest, we are still confused. We could use some FBI agents to figure this train of thought out.) “Abraham is our father,” they say again, returning to the same point. And this time Jesus contests even that point: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what he did.”
Here’s the rub: Abraham didn’t do anything. Back in Genesis 12 God just up and tapped on Abraham to be the father of a great nation. I can’t take credit for this idea, though – Paul noticed it first. In Romans 4 he writes about how Abraham and his descendants didn’t inherit the world through law, but through faith (v. 13). So is Jesus saying – to these believing Jews, these law-abiding Jews – that the truth isn’t in the law? That the truth isn’t in the word on a page but the Word given flesh?
Is this the truth that would set them free: to follow Jesus Christ and live by his example? Then, instead of being shackled to sin, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ would free them to become slaves to something new: righteousness (Romans 6:18). Then, the law wouldn’t be written in a book so much as written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
The truth is out there, and the truth will set you free.
These Jewish believers didn’t seem to find it, though. They keep arguing with Jesus, going back to their relation to Abraham, insisting on their legitimacy. They can’t seem to let go of their way and turn to Jesus’ truth. It doesn’t seem like they accept him and his way as truth at all.
I don’t blame these Jewish believers. In fact, I identify with them. Ironically, I especially identify with them during this season of Lent. I love Lent and how it prepares me for Easter. I love giving stuff up and taking stuff on. I like the extra worship services and the extra prayer. I’m all about an excuse to read more in the Bible. And all of that stuff can start to make me feel awfully… proud.
Like if I can give up enough things and take on enough things, then I am a good person. Maybe even a better person than you.
And that is not the truth.
The truth is Jesus Christ who gives us forgiveness of all our sins. The truth is the example of Abraham, who God blessed before Abraham did anything worthy of being blessed. The truth is something that will not shackle us to our self-righteousness but set us free for a God-righteousness.
That is the truth.
And as Easter quickly approaches, we should be like my friend, “The Truth.” We should go around with this Truth on this tips of our tongues, unable to hold it in, blurting it out at any given moment:
Jesus Christ is the truth, and the truth will set you free.