Freedom to Give Yourself
What is freedom?
This question is at the root of their question to Jesus about paying taxes. Do you, Jesus, as a leader of the people, accept our submission to a foreign power? Or should we stand up and fight for our independence?
Many people believe that freedom is independence and autonomy. Being in control of your situation. Being able to do what you want without being restricted by others or circumstances.
That is what many Jews desired while they were under Roman occupation. But Jesus provides an interesting response to that question:
Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)
He’s pretty much saying accept the situation as it is. Pay the taxes. Accept Roman rule.
In this sense, Jesus was clear eyed. He knew what the consequence was of revolting against them. It would have been near suicide. But it’s not a passive resignation to the situation either.
He says to give to God what is God’s. What does he mean by that? What is God’s?
Jesus says this:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)
Your heart, soul and mind belong to God. Always give that to God. You have the freedom to do that, and in doing that, you have real freedom.
Whatever the situation is, no matter how little control we have, we can always give our hearts to God. This is what Jesus did and how he lived.
In the end, Jesus had no control over his body and life. The Romans put a stop to what he did. They put an end to his very life. They hung him on the cross.
But even in his death, he had freedom.
This is what he said on the cross:
Then Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
To his final breath, Jesus trusted God. That was his freedom.
Peace In Any Circumstance
My friends, it is not your circumstances that make you free.
True freedom comes from letting go of control in total trust to God. It is your faith – your total trust in God that makes you free.
Faith changes you and allows you to handle any situation. Whether you have control or not, faith allows you to handle it.
When we lose control of our lives, it is natural to feel fear, anger, frustration, and worries. These are all things we feel as human beings.
But they are very strong emotions. If we are not careful, they have the power to take control of our thoughts and actions.
When you give your heart to God in trust, they are still there, but they don’t have control over you.
This is what Jesus said to his disciples during his last speech:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
Peace reigns in your heart when you give your heart to God in trust. It’s a peace that God gives to us. A peace that the world cannot give. A peace that surpasses all understanding.
Peace allows you to live with the other emotions. Peace regulates them and keeps them in check. You are free from their control.
This is the struggle that African American slaves must have had. For over 200 years, they had no control over their lives. Many endured brutal suffering.
They had no control over where they lived or their families. They were property that could be bought and sold. They were treated as property.
But many of them found freedom in faith. Through faith, they came to know who they were, and whose they were.
Their bodies belonged to their earthly masters, but their hearts, souls and minds belonged to God. Despite the circumstances, they believed there was a God who cared for them.
Their faith enabled them to endure and persevere. Their faith gave them hope. Their faith gave them new visions for society and the world.
From this faith tradition came leaders like Martin Luther King Jr who helped change the world. The spiritual “I’ve got peace like a river” came from their experience of faith.
When you are controlled by negative emotions, they will cloud and affect your thinking. You cannot think clearly when they control you. Your thinking and actions will be driven by those emotions.
With a peaceful heart, you can think clearly.
This is what St. Paul said:
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
When you give your heart to God in trust, you no longer follow what everyone is doing or saying. You’re able to think clearly. You are able to discern the will of God.
With peace in your heart and clear thinking, your desires become oriented to the will of God. What is good and acceptable and perfect. That is a life of freedom!
Reclaim Our Hearts
Today, our bodies are more free than ever. We enjoy greater freedom than anyone has ever known. But somehow, we are not so free.
We have more political, social and economic freedom than before, but our hearts, souls and minds are not our own. They have been given away to others.
When I read and think about things going on, I say to myself, we have really lost our minds! Our hearts, our minds and our souls have been hijacked.
I’ve been reading about the trial of the person who ran over the Muslim family in London, Ontario. The whole family except for the youngest boy was killed. The defence is admitting to the act. The issue is whether he had the necessary intent.
The main defence is that his mind was clouded by his addiction to far-right content, and that he was not in control of his actions.
His hard life experiences, his depression and his anger led him to consume content that further fuelled his rage and clouded his thinking and led to this tragic action. We will see whether the jury accepts that.
But whatever the legal case is, the young boy will have to grow up without his family.
We need to reclaim our freedom. We need to reclaim our hearts and give them to God.
One concrete thing you can do is take time each day to put aside your phone. That device, and the platforms that run on them, are constantly taking our attention.
That is their business model, to keep our attention. Your act of resistance is taking time each day so that you can stop and think.
Process your emotions and your thoughts. Make your thoughts your own. Give your heart to God and ask for your mind to be renewed. Every day, make this a practice.
Peaceful hearts. Clear thinking. Right desires.
That is what we need to be free people.
Pray With Hope and Peace
Unfortunately, Jews did end up revolting against Rome. Passions prevailed. Those passions led to catastrophic actions.
Rome came in and totally destroyed Jerusalem. They destroyed the Temple. They massacred thousands upon thousands of people. And they drove out the Jews from their traditional homeland.
For 2000 years, they would live as a diaspora, suffer persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. Many of them made their way back after that to form Israel.
The only thing is, there were people who had already been living there for thousands of years. The situation we are in now is in large part a result of their decision to revolt against Rome 2000 years ago.
We are sitting at the precipice of an unknown situation right now in Israel. I pray that peaceful hearts, clear thinking and right desires may prevail.
Jesus chose a different path from those who chose violence. He chose the path of non violence.
The cross was an instrument of total control. It was the symbol of what would happen if you resisted. It was a symbol of the inevitability of Roman power.
Because of Jesus’ faith right to the end, that symbol was transformed.
The cross is now for us a symbol of hope amidst darkness. Of new life that arises from death. I pray that there may be light that emerges from our present dark situation.
St. Paul said this to his followers:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Reclaim your freedom in prayer. Don’t let anxiety and worries overwhelm you. Let the peace of God guard your hearts and your minds.