Many years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I had a transformative moment. An upperclassman took me aside and said that a certain sophomore wanted to ask me for a date. I hardly knew him except that he was cute, and I accepted. Still, surprised, I walked home from school that day as if floating on air. It’s a sweet memory of an early experience of a certain kind of relationship.
Today’s readings are about relationships. The first reading from Daniel tells of a power relationship. The king orders that three dissidents be executed for refusing to worship his god, as he commanded. Such worship would be a relationship based on constraint: worship according to my rules or be punished.
The Gospel excerpt reports Jesus’s dialog with people who believe in him. “If you remain in my word, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” His listeners answer somewhat defensively, saying that as descendants of Abraham, they are already free. Jesus replies that children of Abraham would not be trying to kill him for speaking the truth. And that anyone who sins is a slave to sin.
And then he tells them who he is, beyond what they perceive in that moment. They know that he is a descendant of Abraham, a Jewish man born into the Jewish tradition. And he makes a further claim: that he is the Son sent to them by God the Father. He speaks of his particular relationship to God in words we can relate to.
As a son, he is beloved, and empowered as a son. In revealing who he is, in relation to God the Father of all, he invites us to accept in faith a deeper understanding of who we can be: regarded, not as slaves to a master, but rather, as beloved children of the Father. “The truth will make you free.” It is for this revelation that he, the Son, came into the world.
To be loved is a gift, unearned and not owed. An invitation, it opens one to new possibilities. It also involves expectation. It frees one to act, not slavishly or out of constraint, but generously, out of the recognition of a loving relation to the other.
As we draw closer to the climax of Lent, and to the liturgy of Jesus’s death and resurrection, I would spend some moments today pondering Jesus’s words about sonship.
What does it mean to me to hear the promise that remaining in my faith can make me free?