Has he gone mad? I wouldn't blame you if the title of this posting led you to question my sanity.
These musings came to me while I was reflecting on Christ's mission manifesto, in which He quoted the prophet Isaiah, (cf. 61. 1; Luke 4. 18-22). There He said that He had come to set prisoners free. But free from what; free for what? What striking image could I find to express the contrast between a godless captivity and the freedom Christ offers us? It was then that I remembered battery and free range hens -both of which I've seen. Perhaps they could provide a fresh approach to Christ's work of salvation.
Very, briefly -since you probably already know -free range hens can flap their wings and roam around the farm yard and fields, searching for nutritious grubs and insects. That's the natural life-style for them. But this form of poultry farming does have its disadvantages. It's more work to find and collect the eggs, and the hens are vulnerable to predators, such as foxes. This method is not intensive and efficient. In contrast, battery hens are cooped together in many small cages, in large sheds. The only light they see is artificial. Their whole existence is geared to the mass production of the cheap food which we all want. There's a vast difference between the poor quality of life of the caged battery hen and that of the free range-chick.
Of course Jesus didn't use this bizarre imagery. But he did contrast the slavery of sin, which restricts our development, and the freedom to be our true selves. He did promise to set us prisoners free and give us the fullness of life. That's what everyone wants. We all want the freedom of the free range chick to spread our wings and fly. We resent anyone who clips our wings and restricts our movement.
But where does true freedom lie? For some of us that consists in being masters of our own lives, with no one having the right to boss us around, telling us how we should behave. Taken to its extreme, this would mean that we would have no concern for the damage we did to ourselves or others -as long as we got our own way. Such would be the mentality of someone driving his car at literally break-neck speed. He may persuade himself that such freedom was necessary for his personal self-expression and fulfillment. No way is he willing to be inhibited by rules and regulations, which would prevent him from sharing in the enjoyment of seemingly free spirits. Could be, we may envy such people.
But the life-style of the libertine is far from liberating. Through sinful habits we construct our own cages, which restrict our development and growth as human beings and as the children of God. Bad habits and actions bring out the worst in us and often harm other people. We become enslaved to what the Letter to the Hebrews calls the, "Sin that clings," (12. 1). We resent someone like Jesus telling us that we are enslaved and need Him to set us free.
Jesus, in fact, tells us that only the truth can set us free, (John 8. 32). He strips away false notions about what freedom really means. He exposes the ways we deceive ourselves into thinking that when we chose to sin we are showing a mature independence. He opens our eyes and shows us that only He can offer us true liberty, real happiness, the fullness of life with His heavenly Father. He points out how destructive it is for us to choose to coop ourselves up in our sins, preferring the darkness of the cages we have fashioned for ourselves, to the freedom to spread our wings and fly upwards to the light of Christ.
Jesus Himself is the truth that sets us free. Not simply by giving us information, opening our eyes to what is right or wrong, true of false -though that is very important. He shows us that we can only find true liberty by following Him. The Truth, which is Christ Himself, is a divine source of power and energy. Not only does He show us the way to the Father, but He is the Way. He gives us the will and the strength to make the journey -to follow Him. If we believe in Him and trust Him He will break the shackles of sin and raise us beyond our human limitations to share God's own life.
Strangely, the prospect of freedom can be frightening. The person released from prison will no longer have the security of his cell and of a structured institutionalized life. Someone trying to come off drugs or alcohol dependence may fear losing these supports, even though they've ruined the quality of his life. So, too, we may wonder how we could cope if we were to decide to abandon a sinful life-style, which we must have found in some way attractive. We can become so used to the cage we've constructed for ourselves that we've become nervous about stepping outside and embracing the freedom Christ offers us.
The truth which sets us free, far from leading to anarchy, enables us to make the right decisions and act upon them. That's real freedom! The liberating truth -Christ Himself -transforms us miserable battery hens into free-range chicks, enjoying the glorious liberty of the children of God!
Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on meeting God by "Living by my decisions."