Saturday, June 29, 2013

What is freedom?

Read Galatians 5:1,13-18

In these few sentences, Paul presents us with a series of contrasts that we can list: freedom vs. slavery, service vs. selfishness, living vs destroying, guidance in the Spirit vs. the tendencies of the flesh.

He links the second terms in a way that leads to this conclusion: human beings fall into slavery when they let themselves be led by their own selfish tendencies (which Paul identifies with "the flesh"). Such slavery leads inevitably to the dissolution of human community and the destruction of individuals.

Paul suggests that even very religious persons can be slaves to such selfishness. If they use religious practice to stand with pride before God, to try to bend God to their wills, to set themselves up as better than others, then religious practice becomes a spiritual bondage: rigid, alienating and deadly.

However, Paul presents an alternative: freedom. What is freedom to him? It is a life lived in dedicated service to others under the guidance of God's Spirit.

Religion lived in true freedom leads to humble trust in God, seeking God's will in all things, recognizing every human being as a brother or sister who walks with us towards life. The key to such religion is love. "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself"." 

The Law thus opens a path to freedom: we no longer live our religion as passive subjects, but as engaged actors, creative and open to the breath of the Spirit. 

Such considerations lead us to understand freedom in a very different way from contemporary culture, which only sees freedom as an absence of constraints and the ability to do whatever we want without limitation. In our Western culture, we seek to be "free from": free from regulations, free from opinions, free from morality, free from work, free from duty.

The Gospel invites us instead to strive to be "free for": free for the service of others, free for the building of a more just and fraternal world, free for relationships woven with fidelity, fruitfulness and tenderness. Otherwise, freedom would just be one other form of slavery. "For freedom, Christ has set us free!"

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