I'm convinced that even the most non-religious, un-Christian of modern Western people are familiar with the words above. In the minds of most, I imagine the words exist alongside other short, pithy proverbs expressing a perceived truth or piece of advice: the grass is always greener on the other side; absence makes the heart grow fonder; the early bird catches the worm; the truth shall set you free.
I suspect many would be surprised to learn that it was Jesus who spoke the words above.
Don't misunderstand; I'm not suggesting modern people would be impressed or moved by the revelation that the words above are Christ's words. On the contrary, I am inclined to think most would react quite negatively to such a revelation. Nevertheless, I do believe most modern people would, nonetheless, be somewhat surprised to learn that "the truth shall make you free" was something Jesus said because I do not think modern people equate Jesus with truth or freedom.
Of course, the surprise would quickly fade and would likely be followed by shrugs. The words would remain "just another saying" and remain categorized in the proverb file with the other short, pieces of advice or perceived "truths" like don't put all your eggs in one basket, all that glitters is not gold, and a picture is worth a thousand words.
The truth shall set you free is a saying, but it is not just another saying. This is key.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
That's the passage in its entirety; it appears in the Fourth Gospel - John 8:32, to be precise.
Most moderns would struggle to understand the truth to which Christ refers in the passage above, but I imagine many Christians struggle as well. I sometimes struggle, too.
You see, what makes "the truth shall set you free" so intriguing to me is the fact that Jesus aimed the words not at unbelievers or at Pharisees, but at people who had believed in him; more specifically, at Jews who had professed to hold his teaching and be his disciples.
And how did the Jews who had declared themselves to be disciples of Christ react to being told that the truth shall make them free?
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? (John 8:33)
Take away the part about Abraham's seed, and substitute it with something else - perhaps something related to the System, perhaps something more personal - and take a moment to consider if we as believers in Christ might not in fact respond to the truth shall make you free in the same manner the professed disciples responded when they heard Jesus speak the words to them.
My aim here is not to provide a detailed interpretation and analysis of this segment of the Gospel of John (I'll leave that to Wm Jas Tychonievich to complete on his excellent Fourth Gospel blog); my aim is to draw attention to some potentially unsettling questions.
Do we really know the truth? If we do, then we are free.
But are we really free? Not free in the strictly worldly sense, but in the deep spiritual sense to which Jesus refers?
If not, can we really claim to know the truth? To believe it?
Christ's message is a simple one. Follow me and believe on me and you will have everlasting life. This is the truth. Know this truth, and it shall make you free.
The truth is simple enough for a child to understand, as Jesus himself emphasizes many times after he challenges his so-called disciples with it. Jesus wonders why the Jews who have chosen to follow him do not understand what He is saying, why they can't hear his words, why they cannot believe him, why they choose to believe in the father of lies.
What prevents the professed followers of Christ from allowing the truth to make them free?
This is a hard question, but it has a simple answer.
They are more interested in pretending to temporally free than they are in being spiritually free. They filter the truth Jesus offers through their egos, through their false selves, through their pride, through their fear, through anything and everything that can hinder the truth from really sinking in.
The truth is simple - Jesus wants us to be free. Not a little free. Not slightly free. Not somewhat free. But really free!
If the son of man shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)
And all we need to do to be really free is to continue in Christ's word, and keep the saying that the truth shall make us free. Put another way, all we need to do is to believe on Christ and his offer of salvation and to not let anything stand in the way of this offer.
I have written much about the importance of system distancing in this time and place, but system distancing is not only about the external, objectified world that actively conspires and works against Christ's offer of salvation, it is also about the external, objectified world internalized within our own being - those parts of us that defiantly resist the truth and scoff at the freedom Jesus offers. Those parts that prefer to be unrepentant servants to sin and slaves to the father of lies.
When we know the truth, the objectified world dissolves, both internally and externally. Knowing the truth is a transformative experience. Everything changes. Immediately. We cease being servants and slaves and are given the chance to begin again from a solid foundation of reality from which we can build back freely and creatively.
The freedom the objectified world offered has proven to be an illusion. Even if the world opened back up tomorrow, and we could all return to the lives we had before, we would not be really free because nothing in the temporal world can ever make us really free. The only thing that can make us free is truth, and that truth resides in Christ, and only in Christ.
The vast majority of the modern world considers the truth shall set you free saying to be nothing more than a saying - a short, threadbare proverb that contains some perceived truth, but no real truth.
Our task rests not only in acknowledging the truth within the saying, but in acknowledging the saying as the Truth.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste death. (John 8:50)
Take a look around. The world strives to make us servants and slaves. The world insists we listen to lies. The world demands we turn away from the truth. The world wants us to taste death every minute of every day.
But we can choose to be free.
Really free. Free indeed. Here. Now.