The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 – Cycle C
1 Kings 19:16-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Who is freer: a person in an ice cream shop with a choice of 32 flavors
or a person in a shop with 3 flavors?
Who is freer: a person who lives in a secured, guarded gated community
or a person who lives in an ordinary neighborhood?
Who is freer: a person who lives in fear and suspicion of other people
or a person who lives presuming the best of people even though in the past they have been hurt?
Who was freer: the guards in the Nazi concentration camps or the Jews who were incarcerated?
Who is freer: a person with an education or its equivalent in common sense and general knowledge or a person who is uninformed and set in there ways; unwilling to expand their horizons?
Who is freer: a person who judges and harbors ill-will toward other people
or a person who realizes their own shortcomings, lets go of past hurts moves forward with life?
Who is freer: a couple that chooses to live together or the couple that makes a public permanent life commitment in the Sacrament of Marriage?
What is freedom? How do you understand it?
Freedom is one of those words that we all use and presume everyone else understands and understands in the same way we do. It is a false presumption. What often passes today for the concept of freedom is simply the absence of limits on my desires and wants. Consider the debate in regard to the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. The choice to live my life however I choose, unencumbered by morality, authority, reflection, law, religion, or the seeking of absolute truth. It is a self-seeking understanding of freedom. The issue of abortion has been politically and purposefully framed in the language of desire and choice. My life, my decision – freedom! But is choice the equivalent of freedom?
Consider my example of an ice cream shop. An aspect of the contemporary understanding of freedom is that the more choices I have the more freedom I have. Yet a person has a far more difficult time making a choice from among 32 flavours of ice cream than 3 flavours. In Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, how many types of sneaker can you have? Amazon.com is an array of multiple choice. What comes in the guise of freedom often in the end hinders and binds a person.
Underlying personal wants and choice as a foundation to freedom denies that there are any absolute truths that have a bearing on all people at all times. Choice is freedom. A universal truth is a constraint. “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat…” [Genesis 2:16-17]
Have you ever come across a gated community? What were your thoughts? Mine was of a jail. A self-imposed jail with iron bar fencing, watch dogs, guard houses, and a key padded gate at the head of the driveway. However beautiful the house and manicured the shrubby and lawns were, to my mind it was still a jail. An image of unspoken fears, a false sense of security, and an unbridled need for privacy. Is this an image of freedom to your mind? Do you remember a time when in our neighborhoods no one locked their doors, even at night?
How many people consider themselves free and yet are imprisoned and restricted by their pasts, their judgments and hatreds, their political and ideological views, the semblance of choice as freedom, their lack of knowledge, their being imprisoned in the multiple choices offered by advertising and consumerism?
“For freedom Christ set us free…” “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.” [Galatians 5:1,13] What does Saint Paul mean by freedom? What has Christ done for us? Do you think Paul means, as we contemporaries believe and live out, that Christ has set us free to do whatever we want, live however we want, make any choice we want? Is that freedom in Christ or just self-indulgent hedonism and license?
Paul continues: “You were called for freedom…but do not use this freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, rather, through love serve one another.” This is a radical understanding of freedom. Christ has freed us to serve each other. At the center of a Christian freedom is not ourselves but rather the neighbor, the other person. It is a freedom that is not about personal rights but rather communal responsibility.
When Pope Francis spoke to the Joint Session of the United States Congress in 2015 a constant refrain within his speech was the pursuit and the love of the common good. The common good is at the heart of Christian freedom, Catholic Social Teaching and the Gospel.
That is why a couple who commits themselves to and for each other in the Sacrament of Marriage are freer that the couple who lives unconstrained together. That is why the Jews in the concentration camps who created art, music and drama were freer than their guards. That is why a person, as found in the example of parents, who say “no” to themselves for the sake of their children are freer then people caught in the web of selfishness and self-interest. That is why a person who presumes the best in other people is freer than a fearful person.
Jesus was most free when he prayed to the Father, “Your will be done, not mine.” [See Luke 22:42] He placed himself under the authority and decision of God so that you and I might experience freedom not only by Christ but for Christ in his sisters and brothers. It is the direct opposite response of Adam and Eve, of humanity, to the imposed constraint not to eat from one tree in the garden. It is as if we all sinned. For we have. Freedom today is actually license, a desire for excess, unrestraint, lack of control and lack of responsibility toward others.
Christ has freed us to live by the Spirit so as to be in service to each other. For it is in this living out of freedom through which we discover our fullest and truest selves. Through which we freely choose to serve and love our neighbor. Through which we are united for the common good rather than being divided by a false freedom.