Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Joe Hoover, S.J.April 06, 2022
Photo by Julia Craice on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31).

The ancient Greek term aletheia, which appears at least 25 times in the Gospel of John, is central to the evangelist’s understanding of the messiah. It is best translated as “truth.” The Scripture scholar Bruce Vawter, C.M., writes that aletheia “represents, as indeed it did in the Old Testament, divine revelation (8:32), and therefore it is identified with Jesus himself.”

In today’s reading, Jesus is telling the Jews that if only they possessed aletheia, if only they knew the divine as revealed in him, they would be truly free. Christ goes on to explain that the Jews’ lack of freedom is not a political or physical bondage but slavery to sin.

And freedom, true freedom from sin, says Christ, is now at hand.

The rhythm and chant and music is itself a theology, an effortless path to the divine. “The truth will set you free.” It just feels good to say.

The concept of truth as freedom is a universal one that appears across many religions and philosophies. In Plato’s “allegory of the cave,” prisoners chained to a wall of a cave are constrained to see only shadows of real life, not reality itself. If these captives only knew that what they were seeing was not real, that they were in essence living a lie, they would break out of the cave. The truth would set them free.

The translation of Greek terms; the marshaling of theologians; the extending out to other philosophical traditions: This is all a very appropriate and important way to study our way into understanding Jesus and his exhortations.

But another kind of theology, another way to study the depth of this Scripture passage, is to just say, or even simply listen to the words: The truth shall set you free. Six words, six syllables that over the centuries have worked their way into our lives and culture. Not just because of what they mean—becoming fundamentally liberated by Christ—but because of the way the words fit together. Because the interlocking of consonants and syllables, three iambs, three thrumming phrases, the truth–will set–you free. The rhythm and chant and music is itself a theology, an effortless path to the divine. “The truth will set you free.” It just feels good to say.

When we hear or say such words, “the truth shall set you free,” they create a desire to experience what they mean.

We are all in bondage. No one is not. Or we have been. We are sinking under a ridiculous mortgage we can’t pay for, drowning in a toxic relationship we never imagined we would be in, chained by constant violent unheard mutterings to our sworn enemy on the shop floor. We are enslaved to a miserable idea of who we are.

And when we hear or say such words, “the truth shall set you free,” they create a desire to experience what they mean. To wrest ourselves from the abusive marriage, to pierce the numbing lie of an addiction, to accept the cold fact we are loved exactly as we are by our 9-year-old or a best friend. When we experience such freedom, the breath drops deeper, the voice is released, tension leaves the shoulders; we are able to sit before a crucifix and just dwell there, with a deeper knowing of Christ’s suffering and unmatchable gratitude for his redemption.

Get to know Br. Joe Hoover, S.J., poetry editor

What are you giving up for Lent?

Sugar. And I’m doing something also, taking a weekly sabbath.

Do you cheat on Sundays?

I tried doing that one year, it did not feel right. I am of midwestern stock. Such things do not cut it in Omaha.

Favorite non-meat recipe

Kraft mac and cheese (does anything else really come close? Let’s not kid ourselves…)

Favorite Lenten song and Easter artwork

1.Holy week: Taize: “Wait for the Lord.” It is just too much—it is haunting and sublime.

2. Easter artwork: “Resurrection,” by Cecco del Caravaggio. A stunner, the angel breaking open the tomb, the look on his face, he is done with this death, it is over, we are taking the Lord back.

More: Lent / Scripture

The latest from america

Pope Francis arrives in the Paul VI hall on the occasion of the weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis has met with a fourth group of transgender people who found shelter at a Rome church, the Vatican newspaper reported Thursday. L’Osservatore Romano said the encounter took place Wednesday on the sidelines of Francis’ weekly general audience.
Photo courtesy of Unite Here Local 23
The Senate cafeteria workers are not asking for much—just an improved hourly rate that has a chance of catching up to inflation and something close to the health insurance abundance enjoyed by the senators they serve each day.
Kevin ClarkeAugust 10, 2022
A Reflection for the Memorial of St. Clare, by J.D. Long-García
J.D. Long-GarcíaAugust 10, 2022
A "Fridays for the Future" protest in Bonn, Germany on March 3, 2019 (Mika Baumeister via Unsplash)
Young people are feeling more anxious, uncertain, and often hopeless about the climate crisis than ever. But in order to make real progress, we have to move past those feelings and let ourselves hope.
Stephen McNultyAugust 10, 2022