It must be a coincidence, of course, but it happens that the three readings, long since appointed for Mass on this 8th Sunday of the year, have to do with sincerity versus hypocrisy and integrity versus deception — just while we Americans are spending hours glued to our TVs as the hearings regarding corruption in our national government are being held.
I went back through my fat folder of homilies I have given over the past 60 years, found a few that were made for this same Sunday of the liturgical cycle, one of which, about 25 years old, contained a quotation from a lawyer’s letter commenting on the O.J. Simpson case that was going on at the time. He wrote, “This trial is not about finding truth so that justice may be done. It will become a monumental travesty by experts and trial consultants to obfuscate, confuse, bury and deny the truth.”
We can’t help wondering if it has to be that way: a long, drawn out game in which tactical maneuvers, clever plays, and surprise attacks are what it takes to win the case, not a sincere effort by all involved to discover beyond all reasonable doubt the actual truth.
These ancient scriptures that we listen to with quiet respect can appear naive with their insistence on simple honesty; we are tempted to ask if the prophets and Jesus lived in the same world that we inhabit. Did they realize how difficult it is always to tell the unvarnished truth? Is that possible? Is it desirable?
What sort of law school would Jesus supervise, having said “When you mean yes, say yes; when you mean no, say No. All the rest is from the devil.”
I remember being on the checkout line at a supermarket some years ago when a small child — boy or girl, I don’t recall — came back from outside the store and pushed up to the cashier with a dollar bill in hand and said, “My mother said you gave her a dollar more than you should have.” Everyone on that line smiled and remarked how inspiring the unusual incident was. And here I am, a half century later, telling you about it, because there is such tremendous power for good in truth, even in little doses, as in this simple example.
Truth includes more than sincere speech and honest dealings; it has also to do with how we define and present ourselves to others. Many persons have trouble accepting their past with its sins and selfishness and mistakes. They live in denial or in near despair. They haven’t succeeded yet in reaching back and embracing their total history and then giving thanks to God for permitting their circuitous journey to arrive at the present time of grace.
It’s possible to do that at any time as an act of faith. When we call Jesus Savior, it’s not because we think that he prevents our going to eternal punishment after our sinful lives. No, what he saves us from is our capacity to destroy ourselves in any of countless ways. In his first letter to the new believers in Jesus in the City of Corinth, Greece, St. Paul urges them, as we just heard, to think about their good fortune in receiving from the crucified and risen Jesus the greatest imaginable victory — not over a perceived external enemy, but over their own sinfulness.
It’s really happened, he tells them! And all they have to do is to accept the gift, to share it with others, and to live in gratitude and peace.
Truth. No sham, no pretense, no denial. We express our trust in the goodness and power of God by risking to speak the truth in all things, by taking nothing that does not belong to us, and by accepting ourselves as God accepts and wildly loves us just as we are!