You shall not bear false witness


For Christians, the season of Lent is a time of reflection and penitence. During these 40 days leading up to Easter, we’re challenged to reflect carefully and deeply about our lives — both our everyday lives and our spiritual lives.

We’re to be so honest with ourselves that we can acknowledge any way(s) in which we’ve failed to live up to our expectations for ourselves — and God’s expectations for us.

During this season, we recall the struggles Jesus had and the dangers he faced. Especially, we remember Christ’s final days — with particular emphasis on his final week. That’s when he was betrayed by one of his own, subjected to two trials, and then executed by being hung on a cross.

The Gospels have a variety of vignettes from that final week, each rich in insights to help us in our Lenten spiritual journeys. I’m fascinated by two incidents recorded in the 18th chapter of John, only a handful of verses apart.

In the first, soldiers come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where he had gone to pray. In answer to questions about their intent, they proclaim they’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Without hesitation Jesus affirms, “I am he.”

When they ask a second time. Jesus answers again, “I told you, I am he.” He answers clearly, quickly, and honestly.

As the soldiers arrest Jesus, Peter grabs a sword and cuts off the ear of the slave of the high priest. Such impulsive action is vintage Peter. But just as quickly, Jesus rebukes Peter and submits to his own arrest.

Later that evening, Peter waits in the Courtyard of the Temple where Jesus is on trial. A woman guarding the gate challenges Peter, suggesting he is a follower of the man on trial. Without hesitation, Peter says, “I am not!” During the night, Peter repeats the denial two more times. That tragedy is amplified by remembering that only hours before, Peter was ready to do battle to protect Jesus.

Whether Peter denied his Lord one time or three is not the main thing. That he denied Jesus at all is what’s so grievous. Some try to cut him some slack, saying that at least he stayed near his Master. But he lied so easily! He lied when a man of courage would have admitted his connection to Jesus.

The contrast with Jesus’ forthright admission to the soldiers — makes Peter’s cowardice all the more despicable. He lied when the truth would have been easy.

The lesson here is pertinent today when truth is becoming harder to find. In the midst of embarrassingly caustic arguments between our two political parties, truth has become the major casualty. That’s more regrettable than the meanness of the debate.

It’s understandable if and when values and economic objectives collide. It’s another thing when the dialogue is tainted by highly questionable claims. Those who lie sometime deny doing so — even when the untruth has been captured on tape.

Nominees to high position fail to respond honestly to inquiries from Senators charged with the responsibility of passing on those appointments. It may be more onerous when instead of admitting the mistake, the person or the person’s surrogate, tries to explain away the lie.

Many suggest we should display the Ten Commandments more often. Those commandments, however, are not spiritual window dressing. They’re a serious responsibility.

We must be faithful to all of them, but especially, in this case, to the commandment that says: “You shall not bear false witness.” Truth telling is so basic that it’s one of the commandments.

In this Lenten season, while we examine the righteousness of our lives, may we also find ways to model the righteousness of truth for our churches, our communities, and for our leaders who should defend truth as if it were second nature.

By Rev. William McCartney

Guest Columnist

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