After commissioning the Twelve disciples, Jesus warns them of coming persecutions. “Beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues… Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child… You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved…” Being persecuted is part and partial of the Christian life, for as Jesus says, “No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master.” If Jesus was mocked and ridiculed and treated unfairly, should we expect anything different if the life of the Christian is to be conformed to that of the master? But at the same time, Jesus tells them (and us), “Fear no one.” “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Who is Jesus talking about? Who and what is it that can “kill the soul”? He is talking about us – you and me – and the choices that we make in our freedom. What tears us up on the inside – what drains the life out of us – is when we live a lie or suppress the truth – or when we even say something we know to be untrue because of fear of reprisal. (If they knew what I really thought, there would be trouble.) We stay quiet not to “rock the boat.” This happens when we, as they say, “go along to get along.” We keep quiet because we don’t want to offend anyone, hurt anyone’s feelings, or be thought ill of or shunned. Jesus is not just talking to the martyrs – those who would be thrown to the lions or tortured and killed if they did not offer incense to the gods or pledge allegiance to the king. He is talking about you and me – anyone who sees an injustice and does nothing or says nothing because of the pressure to “tow the company line” or not report something that is contrary to the acceptable narrative. “I’ll just ignore this inconvenient fact. I’ll keep my head down and just do my job. It’s not worth the trouble.” There is a well-known quotation attributed to several different sources that says, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” It is easy to rationalize inaction by saying, “that is not my problem or responsibility” or “who am I to judge?” “Why should I risk a promotion or ruffle feathers when what I say is probably not going to make a difference.” “That’s just the way things work around here.” “I don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker or interfering in other people’s business.” But recognizing evil or a problem and doing nothing is not neutral. It is being complicit in the evil – enabling the evil to go on. How do we not get sucked into the corporate culture and dominant cultural mentality that subtly and not so subtly these days is pressuring us to parrot the acceptable narrative? Or face the consequences? One can either give in, stand up, or get out. To give in to the dominant cultural mentality is to have the life sucked out of one’s soul. One of our current Supreme Court Justices at one point early in his career was working for the legal department of a large agricultural manufacturing corporation. He said, “I had to get out. I could see the ‘golden handcuffs’ slowly closing on my wrists.” If he stayed, he could live a comfortable existence, but to what end? As Christians, we can’t get out of the world. We are in the world to change the world. Jesus says, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” In order not to be swept up in the tide of popular opinion and to stand up to ideological pressure to conform, we need to hear the voice of God speaking in our hearts, and he speaks in a “still, small voice.” To hear a whisper, we need to be quiet. We need to take time to pray and to listen to the Lord. Hearing the voice of the Lord – recognizing him with us, gives us the courage to speak the truth. In the first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear Jeremiah’s interior struggle. The Lord has appointed Jeremiah to call the people to conversion, and the people and the religious leaders don’t like what he is saying. They mock him, scourge him, and put him in the public stocks. His warning is not pleasant. No one wants to hear, “Terror on every side!” Speaking the word of God has only gotten him derision and reproach. He thinks, is it worth it? Maybe I will not mention his name anymore. “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart… I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Yes, he hears the ridicule, but the word of God burning in his heart is the sign that the Lord is with him, “like a mighty champion.” The Lord has won over his heart, and he can’t deny it. To not speak the word of truth goes against everything that he is – it would go against what he knows is true in his heart. To not speak is to deny the truth, i.e., to deny the Lord.
A friend of mine is a scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company that is working on a vaccine for the Coronavirus. His lab was running tests on stem-cell lines, and the group he was assigned to lead was given a line that came from embryonic stem cells. He knew what this meant. This line of experimentation was only possible with the death of human embryos. He was afraid. If he objected to the work, would his job be in jeopardy? What would his boss and colleagues think? He has a family with four children to think about. But could he live with himself if he denied what he knows is true? He took the situation to prayer and spoke with friends who care for him and love the Lord. In these situations, the Lord says, “Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” The Lord knows the details of our life and tells us how much we are valued in his eyes. Better to speak the truth than live the lie. He spoke to his boss. The boss heard him out, respected his position, and gave him a different stem cell line on which to work. Like Jeremiah, in these situations, we are to speak the truth and entrust our cause to the Lord. If we believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, speaking the truth is always the best course of action because it aligns us with Him who is the truth. And as Jesus said, the truth will set us free. We are set free in communion with Christ. The freedom is a spiritual freedom. Who do you need to tell the truth to? A friend, a spouse, a child, a boss? To yourself? Jesus tells us not to worry what others may do to us. They cannot touch our soul. The bigger concern is what will happen to our soul if we do not speak what we know is true.