Truth and Consequences
I want us to listen again to what we heard in the First Reading:
Jeremiah said: "I hear the whisperings of many: 'Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!' All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. 'Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.'
These words are probably echoed in any political campaign planning meeting, in the boardrooms of any major news network, are in the heads of anyone who sees something they disagree with on Facebook. “Denounce! Let us denounce him!”
The prophet Jeremiah often found himself in this position – having the authorities, his enemies, plotting against him. Why? He was speaking the truth that God wanted His People to hear. That truth was usually hard, but it was the truth.
Our readings today present us with the nature of truth and of human argument. When the truth hurts, it has historically been our human nature to fight it – to set up other arguments or traps in order to discredit the speaker of the truth – rather than to allow that truth to shape us into better people. This has led to a philosophical problem of actually denying real truth in the first place – particularly in our modern era.
Today, “truth” is no longer defined as an objective goal to be discovered through reasoned inquiry and mature debate and investigation. Rather, truth is whatever I want it to be – regardless of objective facts. So, today we can hear things like “this is my truth; that is yours.” Even when these two “truths” are opposed to one another, that’s acceptable, as long as “your truth” doesn’t impede mine.
The problem for us in light of this development is that we hold – as Christians, as followers of the God of Truth – that there is a Truth beyond what I say or define. Just because I zip a cardigan, slide on some comfy sneakers, play with puppets, and call everyone "neighbor," I can never claim to be Mister Rogers. It’s just not objectively true; and deep down, I know that.
Why is this important? Well, the “loss of truth” has created a terrible environment in our world today, and we see it often. If you are a regular denizen of Facebook, then you have probably been swept up in it too. Without a real, objective truth to pursue, no real argument can take place. Sure, there are plenty of disagreements, but I cannot argue with someone who is not aimed at the same objective truth as I am – even if they might be right! The purpose of argument is to arrive at the Truth. However, today, it seems that the purpose of argument is to destroy the other person.
I someone clings to a different “truth” than I do, then it becomes easier to dehumanize them – or at least diminish them in my eyes. That is what Jeremiah’s opponents were looking to do, rather than engaging in a debate to pursue the truth. This is where we run into bigotry, uncharity, and hatred that says things like “those gays” or “the illegals” or "fake news" or “the clueless Church” or “jerky Red Sox fans.” This is not what Jesus lived for. It’s not what He died for either.
Jesus reminds us today of two very important things. First, fear no one when you are sticking to the Truth. As St. Thomas More said, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.” The truth always – always –sets you free. Second, love everyone – even when they are different – even when they are wrong – even when you may be wrong. Human dignity is not rooted in whether or not you agree with someone else; it is not dependent on whether they are “right” or not; it is not dependent on any sort of “proof.” Rather, human dignity comes from God, and we as a Church should always defend it, since we are all worth more than many sparrows.