Freedom and independence are the words we all love and strive to experience in our personal and community lives. This year, as we celebrated our 75th Independence Day, we were reminded once again of the struggle and the sacrifices of many who made it possible. God never intended for us to be enslaved; rather, God desires that we be free. In the parable of the so-called “prodigal son” Jesus teaches us how and where we can truly enjoy and experience freedom.
People have looked into this parable from various perspectives. They see it in the context of the other two parables: the lost sheep and the lost coin. Some have looked into it from the legal perspective and tried to understand how the son can even ask for his share while the father is still alive. Some others have seen it from a financial perspective, and some others have tried to understand how famine and difficult times can help us see the truth and respond to it, and the perspectives go on and on.
I invite you to look at this parable from the perspective of freedom or independence.
The younger son here wanted to be free and have the time of his life. Try new things that probably no one in his town ever thought of, or even go to new places. Is it wrong to think this way? Not necessarily, but the problem was that he wanted to isolate himself from the father and his family. He did not want anyone to question his actions, thoughts, or decisions. He thought freedom was about being able to do, say, and go anywhere he wanted to. For him, freedom was being whatever he wanted to be. There are many people today who might think and understand freedom this way.
Through this parable, Jesus teaches us what true and genuine freedom is all about.
1. Freedom needs to be understood within the context of relationships and not in isolation. As the saying goes, “The right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.” The young man wanted to experience freedom by being on his own. He wanted to leave his father and his household to experience freedom. As individuals, as husbands or wives, as children, or in our work places, communal and social lives, we need to understand the limits of our freedom so that we can have a meaningful life.
2. Freedom is knowing that we are loved, accepted, respected, and valued. And experiencing this in our personal and community lives. In the mid-80s, I spent a few days with refugees in Tamil Nadu. One day, as I was getting ready to go home, an elderly man came to me and said, “I know why you are leaving now. It is because you have a mother who would ask if you are late, but many of these children have no one to ask or even correct them.” Some people may think that these children are very free to live the way they want to. But are they really free?
3. Freedom is not about being what we want to be, but being what we are meant to be. While many may think that smoking, drinking, adultery, etc. is an expression of freedom, it is not. True freedom is having the power to say “No” to things that destroy our physical, mental, emotional, personal, family, social and community lives.
The young man learnt his lessons, maybe in a hard way, but he learned that true freedom is in the love and embrace of his father and not by going away from him. The only way we can truly understand what we are meant to be is in and through God’s Holy Word, and to constantly grow in our relationships with God, our fellow humans, and the rest of creation. The command that our Lord Jesus gave to us is all about our relationship with our Creator and creation.
The Bible Society of India is committed to sharing God’s Word with everyone so that lives and communities may be transformed to live the life that we are meant to live. We carry the only message that can offer true freedom to anyone who seeks and believes. In John 8:32, Jesus Said “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This makes our work more important and needed than ever.
In the last 75 years of independence in India, we have seen fourteen Prime Ministers and fifteen Presidents. We have gone through many changes, and we will continue to go through changes. Through our journey, we have learnt that we cannot experience freedom in isolating ourselves from others, but in oneness and unity. There is nothing that should hinder us from being united, except evil. As the prophet Amos cried out, “Hate evil, love good.” Amos 5:15. Let us shun evil and embrace God’s love in doing good.
May God Almighty help us to be the channel that brings healing and God’s blessing to this great nation.