The Light of the Truth
All to often in this world, those who act with integrity run into the buzz saw of anger and even hatred. Jeremiah writes about this when he relates his own experience of this phenomenon: ʺCome, they said, ʺlet us devise a plot against Jeremiah for instruction will not perish from the priests, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. Come, let us destroy him by his own tongue. Let us pay careful attention to his every word. Pay attention to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak on their behalf, to turn your wrath away from them.ʺ
Those who are habituated to sin, who have made their own egos, and their own passions, the center of existence, do not like the light of the truth when it reveals their sins, or their selfishness, to them. This is what is happening to Jeremiah in this passage. He hears of the grumblings of those he has challenged on God’s behalf, and he appeals to God. He reminds God that those who are threatening him with harm are the very ones that he, Jeremiah, had defended before God earlier. Have we not, on occasion, been turned on, even unjustly attacked, by those whom we may have defended and spoken positively about when they were in trouble? This really hurts. We are truly shocked by such behavior. But this is real, and it is not unheard of in human history. Those who listen only to their own counsels, those who fear only the opinions of others, will turn even on those who treat them justly, especially if their consciences have been disturbed, or if they feel challenged by the wisdom of submitting to One who is greater than their own desires.
The early Doctor of the Church, Peter Chrysologus, wrote these words in one of his homilies in the 5th century: ʺVirtue is undesirable to those who are immoral; holiness is abhorrent to those who are impious; chastity is an enemy to those who are impure; integrity is a hardship for those who are corrupt; frugality runs counter to those who are self-indulgent; mercy is intolerable to those who are cruel, as is loving-kindness to those who are pitiless and justice to those who are unjust…He who admonishes those who are evil gives offense. He who repudiates wrongdoers runs into trouble…That person who readily turns away from justice who, in matters of issue, fears not God but people. Such fear can restrain the power to sin but is unable to remove the will to sin. It is only the fear of God that can set minds straight, repel criminal actions, preserve innocence and give steadfast power.ʺ
The world does not want to hear us speak about sin. It would rather go on about its business without the prick of conscience. But Jesus has shown us the way. He has taught us the majesty of what is good, true, and beautiful. He has taught us to love as he loved, even those who persecute us, or tell calumnious lies about us for their own advantage. He taught us that love can be misunderstood, that it can even be despised by those who are unable to think beyond the borders of their narrow egos and unrestrained passions. Jesus showed us that love, in a world that is to comfortable with its own greeds, lusts, angers, jealousies, lazinesses, gluttonies, and pride, can be hated and threatened, but it cannot be defeated. Jesus teaches us to meet immorality with virtue; impiety with holiness; impurity with chastity; corruption with integrity; excesses of wealth with simplicity; cruelty with mercy; insensitivity with love; and injustice with justice. As Christians we are to love. To love in this world means that we must love well enough to forgive, even the most hurtful behavior against us. We can not do this without God’s love and grace. The fear of God, is a love that is so pure that it fears most of all, the loss of God by our sins—forever. If we turn away from God for things as temporal and finite as our own prides, our own passions, we are giving up everything for nothing. For nothing at all.
Let us joyfully fear the Lord. Yes, that sounds like a paradox. But paradox is God’s reality. Let us love God with our lives, not just with our words. Such is the way of one who joyfully fears the Lord. This is the Christian way of life. Amen.