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WHAT IS TRUTH?
The Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B
Every so often during a pick up basketball game there is disagreement over the actual score. In one contest, a player argued the score was not true. A guy on the other team cried out, somewhat jokingly, “you can’t handle the truth!”
This meme was heard in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” LTJG Kaffee (Tom Cruise) pressed Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) on whether Jessup ordered a Code Red.  “I want the truth,” Kaffee queried. Infuriated, Jessup angrily shouted back, “You can’t handle the truth.”
In today’s gospel (John 17:11b-19) Jesus is praying to God to keep his disciples united, protect them from evil, give them strength to carry on. And don’t forget, Jesus adds, “consecrate them in truth.”
To be consecrated is easy to understand. It means to be set apart for a purpose, to be dedicated, to have a strong commitment. Christians celebrate their prophetic and priestly voice in baptism. Their role in the world is strengthened by a holy Spirit. They are sustained in their vocation by celebrating the eucharist with others.
However, the expression “in truth” is more difficult to interpret because there can be variable theories of truth. In a biblical context the word truth refers to the life of Jesus of Nazareth, his way, his light, his message, and his respect for all people. To be committed to that “truth” is to stand for what Jesus stood for — justice for everyone.
The question “what is truth” is at the heart of many problems we are experiencing in this country and perhaps elsewhere on the global stage. The adherence to and promotion of falsehoods and outright lies serve to establish a collective feeling in a large segment of a population. When the lie is repeated over and over it no longer appears to some to be false but actually something they come to believe as true. The earth is flat … the earth is flat … the earth is flat ….
The fabrication is designed to strengthen the ideologies of a sector of a social, political or religious establishment. Most often those who spread the falsehoods are threatened by what is proven to be true either by science or evidence. The escalation of falsehoods creates confusion and doubt among people who are simply searching for honest answers.
Consider these few examples of where facts and truths are blurred or rejected because of the proliferation of misinformation, speculation, and conspiracy theories:
The number of deaths actually caused by the virus. The effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines. The validation of the 2020 presidential election. The cause of Middle East conflicts. Voters have rights. The implications of religious doctrines on public and private lives. The prevalence of racial bias.
To lives as a disciple of Christ and his standards in these confusing times one discerns what must be done so that people do not suffer or die because of injustices — lack of money, food, water, decent housing, and health care. Lies and falsehoods that threaten these basic human rights must be stopped.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God he was not referring to a romantic heavenly place. He understood his life’s mission was to create a peaceful, equitable place for everyone here on earth. If we continue his undertaking the world will be better not only for us and our families but also everyone else.
Luke, the author of the first reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26), was concerned about who would carry on the work of Jesus. The passage specifically tells of the selection of Matthias as an apostolic minister to replace Judas. A good questions for us is are we to be counted among the disciples?
The first place for Christians to start is to make a commitment to spreading the gospel truth. Then we will link arms with those from other traditions dedicated to the same mission.
Of course, when it comes to abiding by biblical shibboleths, there will be different interpretations and skepticism. One could argue because the scriptures are not history books but testimonies the stories could be fabrications.
It seems clear, however, that the underlying long term message found in all of these texts is that, in order to create a world where justice and equity are experienced by everyone, truth must prevail. Lying and perpetuating falsehoods has no place in this narrative. How we handle truth and share it with others will make a huge difference in the future of the worlds we live in.
1. In the movie, In the film, the “Code Red” is used for a punishment or action taken against marines that is extrajudicial or, outside of existing military law.