of the 5th Week of Lent
April 5, 2017
John 8: 31-42
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“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” (John 8: 31-32).
You’ve probably heard the proverbial wisdom that a liar has to have an exceptional memory in order to keep his story, and all its details, straight as he tells and retells it. He probably doesn’t think of it, but he has become a slave to his lie.
There are a lot of truths that we don’t think twice about, like the physical laws of the universe. Gravity keeps us “grounded” in reality and out of the danger that we’d be in in a high place if we didn’t keep it in mind. You know enuf to stay away from the edge. That’s liberating, keeping us safe. The truths of aerodynamics enable us to fly airplanes. Many early experimenters crashed to earth with their bird-wings because they didn’t know the rules. The Wright Brothers finally got it right. That sets us free for faster (and generally safer) travel. Patrick, aren’t you glad you could fly here rather than swim? The truths of astrophysics enable us to explore and understand space; e.g., we’re free if we wish to go to southern Illinois for a grand solar eclipse this summer if we’re into that sort of thing.
But we don’t honor all forms of truth. I read yesterday that the latest issue of TIME asks whether truth is dead. There’s a cottage industry in our society of denying generally accepted facts: a changing climate, what happened on 9/11 (there are some who maintain that it was a conspiracy of the federal government), what happened at Newtown (there are some who say the massacre never happened but is a story concocted by the anti-gun lobby), who killed JFK and why, where is Elvis hiding, etc.
Truth has been a stranger in the political world for a long time; you know the old one-liner: how can you tell when a politician is lying? his lips are moving. The media world has long had a dubious record with the truth. We’ve become all too familiar with the world of “truthiness” and “alternative facts.” Altho the Declaration of Independence—which is more foundational to our American nation than even the Constitution—bases its statements and intention on “self-evident truths,” such as our dependence on God, a God who rules nature, I wonder whether you could get the Declaration thru the Senate today without its being filibustered.
If the Declaration ran into trouble, I suspect it would be over nature’s God. If God is the author and ruler of nature, there must be a natural law. Natural law doesn’t refer to gravity or aerodynamics but to human nature and humans’ relationships with the universe, with each other, and with the Creator. If we acknowledge that law, then we can’t create our own rules for nature, specifically for human nature and for the moral order of the universe.
The self-evident truths of nature’s God include a moral code based on God, on human dignity and equality (“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”), the rights of conscience, the rights to life and liberty, the nature and purpose of sexuality, to start with. Is it truly liberating to cut ourselves free of all that? If each of us can decide what’s true and what’s false, do we become enslaved by our own opinions which are grounded not in the real world but in our minds, in our feelings? What if you can back up your opinion with a billion-dollar bank account or with a gun or with an army? Am I in danger of some form of enslavement, of subjection, to what you desire? That’s where wars, the drug trade, human trafficking, etc., come from. Not from truth, for sure.
Jesus calls himself the Truth (John 14:6), and he tells his disciples that if they remain in him they will know the truth and it will set them free. Assuredly, if we were to remain in Jesus we’d respect the freedom, rights, dignity, and equality of everyone, and we’d all be liberated from various oppressions.
But Jesus is proclaiming more than an earthly liberation, as we know. He speaks today of being freed from sin and returned to a relationship with our Father. Moreover, he speaks in other parts of the Gospel of God’s broadening the covenant of love and salvation that already exists between himself and the Jewish people, of making the covenant universal. This is the liberation of “the many” of whom he speaks in the words of consecration at the Last Supper and at Mass: a new covenant for you and for many. He’s offering liberation from sin on the basis of the truth that God loves everyone, not only the original chosen people, the children of Abraham. He continues to love them, but not only them.
Jesus Calls Zacchaeus
by Neils Larsen Stevns