Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 1, 2003
The freedom of being Surprised by Joy
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
Freedom doesn't achieve its purpose by claiming itself for itself, but by giving itself away.
Happiness and freedom, he realized, are paradoxical in the extreme. You can only have them by giving them away.
Scripture speaks of truths "hidden since the beginning of the world." What Jesus reveals about the relationship of love and freedom is one of these truths. What does he reveal? That the essence of love is a certain obedience, a free acquiescence, a giving over of one's freedom, a laying down of one's life for love, morality, duty. Freedom doesn't achieve its purpose by claiming itself for itself, but by giving itself away.
There is a paradox in that and we see it stunningly portrayed in the scene where Jesus stands before Pilate during his trial. From every outward appearance, Jesus is unfree. He stands before Pilate and the crowd, shackled, helpless to walk away, seemingly a victim.
Yet, in all of literature, one will never find an image of someone more free than Jesus at that moment. When Pilate says to him: "Don't you know that I have the power to set you free or put you to death," Jesus answers, "You have no power over me. Nobody takes my life. I lay it down of my own free will."
Pilate understood exactly what that meant, you can't make a saint into a victim or a martyr into a scapegoat. You can't take by force what someone has already freely given over.
Scholastic philosophy used to make a distinction about freedom that partly captures this. It spoke of freedom as "freedom-from" and "freedom-for." The former designates a certain adolescent ideal, where freedom means lack of restraints, lack of duty, the capacity to do whatever you like. The latter designates the purpose of freedom itself, namely, the capacity for self-donation in love, for morality, for service.
This is not something we understand or accept easily. We are all too easily seduced by the idea that freedom means "freedom-from" - from duty, from moral restraint and from anything else that inhibits or ties us down. Duty, morality and religion are seen as unhealthy weights, shackles to be shed. That's a dangerous, unhappy, notion.
In Mark's Gospel, the disciples of Jesus are cast in a bad light. They don't just abandon Jesus during his passion and death, they misunderstand, betray, and get things wrong all the way along. But that's partly the point of Mark's Gospel. For him, it's difficult, indeed impossible, to come to faith in Jesus unless we share in the cross by giving away our freedom as Jesus did, freely, without resentment. In Mark's view, discipleship can only be grasped by participation in what lay at the heart of Jesus' mission, his giving away his freedom to his Father.
Simone Weil, a fiercely independent mind who died fighting for freedom, was once asked: "What are you searching for?" Her answer, in essence: "I'm searching for someone to be obedient to because without obedience we inflate and grow silly, even to ourselves."
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