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Speaking honestly

– Memorial of St John of the Cross –

Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” [Matthew 21:25-27]

Today’s reading reveals much about the mindset of Jewish authorities during the time of Jesus’ public ministry. Their consultation following Jesus’ question reveals both a desire to avoid being charged publically as hypocrites, and a fear of putting the crowd offside. Finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, they avoid giving Jesus an honest answer.

While this kind of evasive behaviour is, sadly, considered typical of politicians, the fact that the chief priests indulged in it tells us something about how worldly priorities – even in the sphere of religion – often win out over spiritual ones. In this case, the primary concern of the clerical class seems to have not been the proclamation of the truth, but the preservation of their power. The question for us, then, is this: would we – do we – behave any differently when we are asked to give an honest opinion on an uncomfortable topic? In other words, is our ‘Yes,’ Yes’ and our ‘No, No’? (Mt 5:37). If not, may it be our prayer today that, when our thoughts are required to be spoken, we speak with reverence for the truth.

Today is the feast day of St John of the Cross – a doctor of the Church and one of our greatest teachers of the Christian spiritual life. This quotation from Iain Matthew’s ‘The Impact of God’ (Hodder & Staunton, 1995) addresses John’s insight into our struggle to live our faith as honestly and lovingly as we would like. Iain Matthew writes: “John of the Cross speaks to people who feel unable to change. We have sensed in our lives a call to freedom, to wholeness, to more than we are now…(John) testifies to a God who…is pressing in to meet, to change, and to fill us in our deepest need” (p.1).

Honesty is what Jesus wanted from the chief priests and elders, and may honesty be what he – and everyone else – gets from us. May the God of St John of the Cross bring his life to fruition in us.

By Mark Makowiecki

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