Truth & Consequences

 

Suggested reading Jeremiah 20.:7-13

Daniel Webster wrote "there is nothing so powerful as truth -- and often nothing so strange."  As children, we are taught always to tell the truth. You probably remember the story of Pinocchio, whose nose grew long when he lied. The schoolyard chant -- "Liar, liar pants on fire" is known to most. Lying to the public can land elected officials in very serious trouble.

But truth-telling can also carry serious consequences. The movie "A Civil Action" follows a real-life legal battle that took place in the 1980's. In a small town in Mass., 12 children died of leukemia over a 15-year period. John Travolta plays the lawyer who takes on two industry giants whose pollution has been linked to the deaths. By the end of the movie, the case is lost and the lawyer ruined. Yet the notes preceding the credits tell us that ultimately, the truth was told, and the corporations held accountable.

Other truth-tellers are treated with suspicion. Helen Caldicott is a physician, anti-nuclear activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In books and lectures Caldicott explains the potentially horrific medical consequences of nuclear technology. Her views on the nuclear industry were featured in the 1982 film, "If You Love this Planet." Although it won an Academy Award, the US Department of Justice declared the film political propaganda and monitored its distribution.

And of course, there are those who stand up for truth and are jailed or even killed. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid in South Africa. Martin Luther King was murdered for daring to dream of a world of racial equality.

THE PROPHET'S LOT

In one way or another, these people are prophets, speaking truths that others may not want to hear. They stand in a long line of truth-tellers whose messages are often rejected outright. In biblical times, the prophets played an important role in Israel. They served as Israel's conscience, speaking out for justice, for the protection of the weak and the poor and the proper care for the stranger.

Prophets are not the kind of people one would invite home to dinner. They are uncomfortable to be around, because few of us like to be reminded that we could be doing better or that lives of ease and comfort are often lived at the expense of the lives and hopes of others.

The prophet Jeremiah knew well the sometimes heavy consequences of truth-telling. He spoke out against idolatry, and was rewarded with imprisonment and public humiliation. In the First Reading, Jeremiah says that he has become a laughingstock; everyone mocks him. But he prevails, because he knows that he is not alone. The Lord is with him, and sees the heart and mind. God sees. God is on the side of truth, and will save "the needy from the hands of evildoers."

Condensed from Capsulized Communications Ltd.