John 8.33-47 Reflection

Over a year ago Pam Durso, with Baptist Women in Ministry contacted me to contribute to a special edition of the Smyth & Helwys Formations quarterly devotional. She wanted to gather a host of voices of females in ministry and men who are supportive of women in Baptist life. I was, of course, more than happy to participate, honored in fact. I thought I would share my submission here, which appears in the devotional guide for today, December 4.

John 8.33-47

The passages where Jesus speaks harshly, with unequivocal condemnation, are perhaps the most uncomfortable passages of scripture, if you’re anything like me. I prefer to focus on Christ’s love, grace, compassion and justice. When he starts condemning things and people, I tend to read my own life with rose-colored glasses, assuming that I remain firmly encamped with Jesus, pointing a collective finger at those who really deserve judgment.  It’s passages like this, though, that are uncomfortable because they serve as disquieting reminders that I might need to hear a word of judgment.

Jesus is speaking to a group of fellow Jews who fancy themselves exceptions. They think they are fine: We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?  This seems to be a grave exercise in missing the point. The point of freedom in Christ is not just for those who are caught in literal chains. Rather the crux of his words here rests on the destructive reality of sin: Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. This is a message for all of us. But sin is also something I don’t like to talk about. I don’t like to feel bad about myself, and I certainly don’t want to make other people feel bad either. This kind of teaching, though, is exactly what we need to hear; and we need to hear it with an expansive understanding of sin. How are we contributing to sinful systems? How does our own tacit approval lend itself to the enslavement (physical and spiritual) of others? Part of Jesus’s point here, is that our complicity in these kinds of structures does not merely harm others, but also keeps us enslaved to the forces of sin.  This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Martin Luther King, Jr.,  “no one is free until we all are free.” Perhaps the hardest thing to see from positions of privilege is our own spiritual captivity as long as others are oppressed and lack freedom.

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