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I don’t know about you, but I have heard the words “the truth will set you free” many times in my life. Most often they fall from the lips of my darling husband as he both encourages and challenges me to speak truth to power. He also adds, “but it may hurt you in the meantime, for a little while.”
That’s the part that puts fear into my heart. Who wants to hurt or be hurt? Who wants to feel the isolation and alienation that too often comes with speaking the truth? I surely don’t. I cringe at the possibility.
At the same time, I know there is nothing else that can be done if we hear the first part of that verse. It is not simply my truth or our truth or your truth that Jesus commands us to speak. That truth is always skewed by our personal experience and understanding.
It is the truth of God’s word that sets us free. And that truth comes only when we are deeply involved in, embrace, and continue in God’s word. That truth is discovered as we journey faithfully in discipleship. That truth is revealed in the depth of community.
We are coming to the end of Lent and the beginning of our high holy days, Holy Week. We’ve listened, learned, and grown in love knowing that this is the acceptable time, the only “now” we have. We have accepted God’s invitation to have our stony hearts changed to ones of flesh; hearts that sear with the struggles of humanity, as Hans Kung says.
We have discovered the power of living a passionate life, as we trust that suffering has redemptive value. We have seen God working, heard God speaking and vow never to forget, always to remember and be re-membered, transformed. Those are the truths that will set us free, if we accept them in the core of our being.
We can choose not to receive the gift of freedom. We can choose to remain enslaved in the silence that allows injustice to prevail, hatred to seethe and grow, bias and prejudice to distort our thinking and acting. But, the evangelist warns us that this refusal will kill us. It will ruin our lives and eat away at our holiness and wholesomeness. It will be suffering and death that is not redemptive.
However, if we opt to be seers and sayers of God’s truth as we discern it in the community of God’s people, we will be free. Not only will we enjoy God’s freedom, but we will then be able to empower it wherever we go with whomever crosses our path. It’s an awesome ability and an uplifting one.
We won’t be among those who kill others with judgment, negativism, pessimism. We won’t be among the ones who scorn and denounce anyone who tries to offer us deeper knowledge, wisdom and understanding. We won’t stand firm on the ground that we never did it that way before or we always did it this way. We won’t declare, with condescension, “You aren’t from around here, are you?”
We won’t leave our churches when a challenging message is offered. Nor will we start new ones for the same reason. We will, instead, courageously listen carefully before stepping forward with God’s truth spoken with charity.
We won’t declare religion and politics to be forbidden topics. We’ll open our minds and hearts to hear what others have to say. We’ll ponder those words, consider their wisdom, discern their validity, seek God’s spirit speaking through them, and act upon them.
To do otherwise is to be enslaved. In the Gospel passage we just heard, Jesus tells us that this is what it means to be enslaved in sin. I don’t like to hear those words. I don’t want to think of myself as enslaved in sin.
Yet, when I really look at my life, when I truly examine the times when I have chosen not to speak out, not to act authentically, I find that I am not myself. There is a nagging feeling that I have failed in some way. The sin is not that I have something terribly wrong, that I have seriously harmed another person. It is that I am less alive. I have allowed my cowardice to diminish my courage. I have murdered my true self. It’s not a good feeling.
Worse yet, are the times when my silence has rendered another person’s truth to be negated, questioned, doubted, or denied. Those are the times when I am part of the problem, not an empowerer of the solution. Those are the times when I won’t let truth set anyone free, including me. Those are the times when I encourage enslavement rather than freedom. Those are the times when I allow profound principles to die because I was afraid to take a stand.
We’ve all been there, at one time or another. The point is not to remain in that stance, not to keep God’s truth under wraps. Jesus commands us to spread the Gospel. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that the Gospel must be preached at all times, and when necessary use words. This brings the truth to another dimension. It’s not only about talking, writing, presenting messages of truth. It’s about being people of truth, people who live God’s word faithfully each day.
It’s about being Lenten people who realize, who make real, the truth that there will always be the crucifixion of Good Friday before we can enter the wonder of Easter resurrection.
There will always be the challenge that is at the heart of freedom. There will always be the call to love one another as brothers and sisters, members of God’s family. There will always be the comfort of knowing that we are here together on this earth because God has sent us. God has sent us to be speakers and listeners. God has sent us as spreaders of truth, as believers and disciples who know and empower the truth.
It may hurt us, but it will also set us free.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of Scriptural meditations), lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.