Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
The discussion between Jesus and the Jews deals with the difference between the slavery of sin and the freedom of children of God. Jesus links knowing the truth and living in the truth with freedom: those who follow him as his disciples will share in his divine sonship and truly be free.
John tells us that Jesus is speaking with Jews who believe in him. The Jews, however, are hesitant to accept Jesus’ teaching and answer back that they consider themselves free, not because they follow him, but because they are descendants of Abraham. Jesus wants to correct this superficial vision of things and bring them to a deeper understanding of divine sonship and its freedom.
Freedom, Jesus teaches, does not depend on descending from Abraham according to the flesh. Jesus brings this point out by alluding to the story of Abraham’s two sons: Ishmael, born of the slave Hagar, and Isaac, born of Sarah his wife. Paul will take up this same theme in the Letter to the Romans and write that not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants. The children of God are not the children of the flesh, but rather the children of the promise (Romans 9:6-9).
In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes: “Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise” (Galatians 4:22-23). Both Ishmael and Isaac were circumcised, but circumcision (one of the signs of the covenant with Abraham) is no guarantee that one will inherit the blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants. Jesus teaches, then, that being a child of Abraham means doing the works of Abraham – believing God and obeying his divine word (Romans 4:1-3). The promise made to Abraham is given to those who share the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:16).
Paul will also use the story of Hagar and Sarah to symbolize two covenants (Galatians 3:24-31): Hagar represents the Mosiac covenant of Mount Sinai (and its final form in the Book of Deuteronomy); Sarah represents the Abrahamic covenant and its fulfillment in the New covenant of Jerusalem. Rejecting Jesus means following the way of Ishmael and being cut off from the blessings promised to the descendants of Abraham. Accepting Jesus means following the way of Isaac and sharing in those blessings.
Through his sacrifice on the Cross (prefigured by the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah), Jesus frees us from the curses of the covenant of Deuteronomy. We are justified and made righteous, not by the works of the old law of Deuteronomy, but by faith in Jesus Christ and cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit (Compendium CCC, 422).
In the Book of Daniel we see an example of the liberating action of God. Three men – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – refuse to worship the king’s statue and instead entrust themselves to the protection of the one, true God. They are condemned to death for their disobedience and cast into the white-hot furnace. The flames, however, do not touch them and they are protected by one who looks like a son of God. In this way, God delivers them from death.
We learn that there is no opposition between serving God and being free. The more we act in accord with God’s law and will, the freer we become. “There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin” (CCC, 1733). As children of God, we are moved to act righteously not by slavish fear, but by the Holy Spirit in freedom and out of love.
Freedom is not an indifferent ability to sin or to do good. True freedom is a share in God’s freedom and is ordered to the good. The nearer we approach God through moral progress, the less we are inclined to sin and abuse our freedom. Knowledge of God (knowing the truth) and love for God (living according to the truth) make us truly free. On our own, we are powerless to break free from the devil and the bondage of sin. Christ alone can liberate us and make us sons of the Father (See S. Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, 376). This is the great mystery we contemplate as we approach Holy Week.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].