Joy and Hope
April 25, 2009
Freedom that will give us true peace
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us about the consequences of our baptism: “You too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 7.11)
What does this mean to be dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus? The key to understanding this strong assertion by St. Paul are the words, “in Christ Jesus.”
In the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus comes into the midst of his timid band of disciples after his resurrection from the dead. (Jn. 20. 19-23) To say “timid” is putting it mildly. The disciples of Jesus were scared out of their mind. They had seen from a distance or had heard the graphic details of Jesus’ crucifixion. They knew how he had been tortured beyond recognition. His flesh had been whipped and torn. He hung suspended on the cross for three hours anguishing for every breath.
These images haunted them. Their own abandonment of the Lord in his hour of need tore at their souls and shamed them into hiding. Hiding is exactly what they were doing. Their fear and shame made them close and lock the doors. They were trapped in a prison of their own making.
They were also afraid of the fate that awaited them. If the authorities had so brutally tortured Jesus, what chances did they have of escaping the same treatment? The Lord Jesus had already warned of them of this earlier in the week during his last meal with them the night before he died. He told them: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” (Jn. 15.18-19) These words too must have hovered over the disciples as they were gathered together.
Into this frightened huddle came the Lord Jesus and he said to them, “Peace be with you.” The Lord offered them peace. He offered them his peace. Now, keep in mind, that nothing has changed about their circumstances. The world was still a hostile place. Those who had sought Jesus’ death were still in power. The Roman soldiers were still patrolling the streets. Yet, the Lord Jesus offers his disciples peace. What peace could these disciples have if they were still hated and despised, shamed and belittled?
The Lord Jesus tells them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (Jn. 14.27) While the world was still a hostile and cruel place for the disciples, one thing had in fact changed. The Lord Jesus, who had died because of this hostility and cruelty, had overcome death and had returned to be with his disciples.
More than just rising from the dead, the risen Christ came back to his friends, to his chosen ones to give them peace by being with him them. He breathed out his spirit upon them and the disciples breathed in this Spirit. Those who had lost their breath from fear and shame now inhaled the energy and vitality of the risen Christ.
The disciples were still in lots of trouble. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that they would continue to get into trouble with the authorities but they were at peace even in the midst of their travails because Christ was with them. They had begun to live for God in Christ Jesus. Their peace of mind, their own tranquility even in the face of adversity was solely rooted in knowing Jesus, the Christ.
The fear and the shame that the disciples experienced was the result of sin, the sins of others and their own sins. Their being trapped and locked in the room because of fear is always the consequence of sin. Sin starts out with the notion that we can live without God. Sin takes root in our hearts when we start to live for ourselves. We begin to move away from God because it no longer suits us or because of illusions or temptations that make us think we can do better without God. Sin by thought, word, deed or omission is a decision to live for ourselves, not for God. How does living for ourselves become a sin?
St. Augustine tells us that our hearts are made for God and our hearts will be restless until they rest in God. We are made to live for God, for only in him will we find the happiness, peace, and beauty that our own being craves. By this design, God is the one who guides us to the way, the truth and the life that will make us truly happy, that will truly free us. When we begin to believe that our happiness is found in living for ourselves and doing what we want we begin to lose our bearings. We begin to get lost because we no longer know the way, the truth, or the life that was made for us.
More often than not, this begins with a distorted notion of freedom. Freedom has come to mean doing what we want when we want. Each person decides what happiness means and no one should keep us from seeking happiness according to our own design. Lots of people talk about being pro-choice, believing there are no bad choices since each one gets to choose what one wants. When this happens, then the only guide for our decisions becomes our own pleasure and our own ego. Anything that stands in the way of pleasing ourselves or glorifying ourselves is perceived as bad and must be feared or hated. This path will only lead to one place, a room where we are locked up by our own fears or chained by our pleasures.
The name of this room is addiction. We have all seen or heard of cases of extreme addiction: the drug addict wandering homeless on the streets, the alcoholic trapped at the bottom of the bottle, the sex addict whose momentary pleasures are desperate attempts to escape a haunting loneliness. These are extreme examples of addiction but they are symptomatic of an addictive society, a society that lives for itself, that is addicted to wanting and getting what it wants.
The Lord Jesus comes to us in this Easter season offering us an escape from the prison of haunting fears and restless wantings. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Breathe in the Spirit that he breathes out upon us in the Easter time. We die to sin and all its fears and all its useless wantings, so that with Christ Jesus we can live for God. We choose to live for the God whose only Son has lived and died for you.
Living for God means walking in the freedom of knowing the way, the truth and the life that Jesus has shown us. It is this freedom that will give us true peace and will guide us to the joy that comes from the one who made our hearts for himself and knows our deepest desires.