The fundamental message of the Christian Faith can be summed up in two ways which are closely tied to one another. The first is that human beings, you and I, were created by God to be free.
Now as good Americans we might think of this notion of freedom as pertaining only to our civil rights, and of course, this great country of ours, the constitution, the bill of rights, all of it was motivated by a desire for freedom and to preserve and protect freedom for all.
But let’s take a step back for a moment and think about this idea of freedom. The whole notion of freedom implies that there must be some kind of imprisonment one is suffering from or at least that there is the threat of losing one’s freedom. But we might ask, imprisonment by whom or by what? Or to put it another way, freedom from whom or from what?
The laws of our country certainly can afford us many freedoms or as they are also called, “rights.” The right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assemble peacefully, etc… , and these and many other rights are what collectively give us a sense that our freedoms are protected. But again, protected from whom or from what?
Politically speaking, we would say, that we want to protect ourselves from the tyranny of a king, a government or a dictator. There are many examples in history of exactly these kinds of situations and many countries even today where such tyrannical governments and leaders are in power. Yet when we look at the heart of the matter, what we are really afraid of, who we are really trying to protect ourselves from is ourselves.
Because we human beings have within us the propensity for unspeakable evil. Our history, even to this day, is full of examples of just how evil, destructive, and inhumane human beings can act towards each other. To add to that, our race is also riddled with a vast number of physical and psychological illnesses and diseases that can strike young and old. So then do we truly have freedom? Freedom from evil? Freedom from illness? Freedom from death? The answer is no.
I said at the beginning that human beings were created by God to be free. What exactly then is this freedom we were meant to have and how can we regain it?
This freedom is closely tied to the second fundamental Christian message which is illustrated in the gospel reading about the woman who had an infirmity for eighteen years, that is, our VALUE as human beings.
In the Gospel reading, Christ silences the pharisees and their hypocrisy by pointing out that they cared more about enforcing the oppressive rules of their legalistic interpretation of Judaism than they did about human beings.
You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
Notice how there is this language of “untying” or ” loosing” which is another way of saying the “freeing” of someone who is VALUABLE. But the pharisees cared more and valued more their irrational animals than they cared or valued this woman who is, not an animal, but has, as all human beings do, the honorable identity of being the daughter of Abraham.
We were made in the image and likeness of God. Human beings are his masterpiece, we are the crown of His creation. This is something the Pharisees had forgotten.
Human beings are honored, loved and valued by God more than the angels. The pharisees believed that only the Jewish people were favored by God and would be the only ones to be saved.
The woman had lost her freedom. She was imprisoned by her illness. And Christ frees her.
Christianity, brothers and sisters, is a revolution. It is a revolt against this denial of the freedom which we were given by God to enjoy. It is the reclaiming of our freedom, our dignity, our honor, our value. And this revolution is not based on a man-made philosophy, political system or ideology. The opening shot in this revolution was the greatest event in all of human history: the Incarnation of the Son of God.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16)
God himself gives us back our identity, our dignity, our value, our freedom, the only way that it was possible, by becoming one of us.
How does this happen? When we look at the gospel reading closely, we see that it’s a story about restoration. The woman had a terrible condition which caused her to be completely disabled, with her back completely bent, so that all she could look at all day and night was ground.
This woman and her illness, are very symbolic of humanity. Our human race, which is bent and broken, imprisoned by sin and death, which can longer look up and see its former beauty and dignity, but can only look down at the ground, to the dust, to which it is destined to return. But Jesus Christ, speaking on behalf of our heavenly Father comes and calls us “Son” and “Daughter” and tells “You are freed from your infirmity.” And with his touch, the woman is made whole, renewed, restored.
In the same way that he frees the woman in today’s gospel reading from the imprisonment of her illness and restores her body by his touch, so Christ frees humanity from the power of the Devil, from Sin, and from Death. The incarnation was the opening shot of the revolution, of the fight for freedom. And the final battle, the final victory, which accomplished our freedom from the power of the Devil and Death was the cross and Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Just as he touched and healed the body and soul of the woman in the gospel story so will he, during the Divine Liturgy, come to us, and restore our bodies and souls with his touch, which we will experience by touching his Body and Blood in Holy Communion. All that is required from us our faith and our repentance, our love for Christ, remorse for our sins, and a desire to be healed by him, a desire to be freed from the prison of our passions, from the illness and infirmities of our souls.
The following Pre-Communion prayer written by St. Basil the Great summarizes everything perfectly:
O Master Lord Jesus Christ our God, source of life and immortality, creator of all things visible and invisible, the co-eternal and co-unorginiate Son of the unoriginate Father, who out of thy great goodness, didst in the latter days clothe thyself in flesh, and wast crucified and buried for us ungrateful and evil-disposed ones, and has renewed with Thine Own blood our nature corrupted by sin…
And do thou cleanse me, from all defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach me to achieve holiness in fear of thee, that with the pure testimony of my conscience, receiving a portion of thy Holy Things, I may be united unto Thy Holy Body and Blood, and having Thee living and abiding in me with the Father and Thy Holy Spirit. Yes, O Lord Jesus Christ, My God, let not the communion of thine immaculate and life-giving mysteries be unto me for judgment, neither unto infirmity of soul and body, because of my partaking of them unworthily, but grant until my last breath to receiving without condemnation, the portion of Thy Holy Things, unto communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for life eternal, for an acceptable defence at they dreaded judgement seat, so that I also, with all thine Elect, may become a partaker of Thine incorruptible blessings, which you have prepared for them that love you, O lord, in whom you are glorified unto the ages of ages. Amen.