BEFORE THE CROSS | Independence from God doesn’t produce true freedom

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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We've just celebrated July 4 — Independence Day. But what if independence isn't what makes us great, as individuals or as a country? What if, instead, reliance on God is what makes us great?

Interestingly, as we celebrated Independence Day, that's what the readings for the week told us.

The Old Testament readings came from the book of the prophet Hosea, who gave a prophetic history lesson. He showed Israel how independence from God had produced times of national disaster and would do so again; and he proclaimed that reliance on God would produce national renewal. Maybe that's a message for us today just as much as it was for ancient Israel.

The Gospel readings for the week (from Matthew 9 and 10) made a similar point. They started with multiple stories of healing, in which people relied on Jesus. Then, after performing several healings, Jesus sent the disciples out to preach, to heal and to cast out demons in His name. The success of their mission depended on their reliance on Him. Again: maybe that's a message for us just as much as it was for the disciples.

It makes sense.The central characteristic of Jesus's life was reliance on the Father, which allowed Him to give perfect love to people in all circumstances. That was the mark of His greatness.

Reliance on Jesus was the central characteristic for the saints. Relying on Jesus allowed them to be the best version of themselves, to make their lives a gift to others and bring His Kingdom a little closer. That was the mark of their greatness.

We can verify the lesson in our own lives, too. Independence from God doesn't produce true freedom. It results in slavery to other "gods" — worldly things that consume our time, energy and attention.

We also see it in the crisis that aging produces in our lives. If independence is our measuring rod, then aging means diminishment. But as age takes away our independence, it also provides an opportunity for our reliance on God (and others) to increase. If reliance on God is our measuring rod, then we increase in holiness even as we diminish in independence.

Hosea was given a prophetic mission for a prophetic moment in Israel's history. Perhaps our nation faces a prophetic moment of its own; perhaps we're invited to a prophetic mission of our own. More than 2,700 years after Hosea — and in light of the life of Jesus and the lives of the saints — the message hasn't really changed. Looking back on the history of our country, and looking ahead, maybe reliance on God is a better measuring rod for greatness than independence. 

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