Yesterday’s sermon was based on part of the portion of Scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-37). It began by stating that the desire for freedom – to think, to assemble, to feel, etc. – is not merely an American standard, but one of the marks of being human. The homilist then stated that Jesus didn’t care about our freedom; He takes the law, already a “restriction” on our “freedom,” and “makes in harder,” further reining us in. Indeed, we are not permitted to feel whatever what we want: Jesus equated anger with murder, lust with divorce, name-calling with anger. In our Americanized take on freedom, this sure looks like a whole lot of rules…a whole lot of barriers to freedom.
But what if Jesus’ definition of freedom is different…what if Jesus actually wants us to be free? Studying theology has beaten this into my head: freedom is not freedom *to;* freedom is freedom *for.* “Doing whatever you want” is not freedom, it’s chaos, and that’s precisely the thing God was trying to roll back in the Beginning. Whether you say that God made something from nothing or order from formlessness (Genesis 1 is, in my opinion, at best an ambiguous support for the widely popular creation ex nihilo [Latin for ‘out of nothing’]). What you have is creative progression away from chaos, nonbeing, void. The opposite of good is not evil, it is chaos (nothingness).
So if “doing whatever you want” is chaos, chaos is the opposite of good, and God is good, then freedom is surely something else. Freedom is freedom for, which means that it is also freedom from. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not want to dress us in the chains of Instructions, Tasks or Behavior Management. That is, I would say that Jesus is not restricting our freedom; He is preserving it. He is reorienting our desires from indulgence to intimacy, self-protection to vulnerability, mistrust to honesty. Anger is the murderer of relationships, lust the slayer of intimacy. Jesus is not restricting our freedom, He is not “making the law harder to fulfill,” He is explaining what our freedom is for. If, of course, we think of freedom as freedom *for*…for the other, for connection, for the one true God.