The readings for this past Wednesday’s Mass have much to say about true freedom.
The first reading (Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95) recounted the story of the three young men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) thrown into the furnace for refusing to bend their knees in homage to the false idol of the king. “Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I have made, whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe, and all the other musical instruments…” Yet, even though thrown into the furnace, the three youths were preserved by the grace of God and became a witness even unto the king.
The Gospel reading (John 8:31-42) also invites us into a reflection on true freedom. It is important to note that our Lord does not locate freedom within our own narrow wills (doing whatever we want) but rather in a lived relationship to truth and obedience to God. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free … Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.”
We might tend to think of the story of the three youths as a quaint story of the past, vivid in detail for children’s Bible study, but my experience has demonstrated that there are many “musical instruments” calling us in our day and age to bend the knee in homage to a whole host of false idols … and there are many people more than willing, it seems, to bend the knee. My experience also has shown me that these people who so easily bend the knee tend to also be the ones who so vocally both proclaim and demand their freedom to do whatsoever they please. Yet our Lord points out, “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin”. Freedom is not gained when truth and God are abandoned, what is really attained is a mass conformity that lies under an illusion of freedom – it is, in fact, a form of slavery.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand out because they would not bend their knees. They would not fall down in an automatic conditioned response to the powers of their time. The truth had set them free and they were the only ones truly free enough to make a free choice. We do not remember those who bend their knees to the powers of their time. We remember those (free in relation to truth and obedience to God) who choose to not bend the knee and remain standing. These are the ones who have fought the hard fought fight. They cannot bend their knee because they have come to know their own and everyone else’s true worth. They will not deny the truth and because of this they are truly free.
“If you remain in my word … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”