Readings Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
In an age of fake news, biased reporting, half-truths, and plain lies, truth seems a rare and precious treasure. Presumably, then, we should be eager to acquire the truth and reject all untruth, lies, and dishonesty. Somewhat surprisingly this is not always the case: in many area of our life we are very keen to ascertain the truth but in other areas, perhaps less so. In approaching Jesus, the disciples of the Pharisees, along with the Herodians, seem to be pursuing the truth and earnestly seeking a solution to a real moral dilemma: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar, or not? However, we know from the opening lines of this morning’s Gospel that this wasn’t a sincere quest for the truth but a devious ploy intended to entrap Jesus into saying something that would discredit him and which they could use against him.
There were, of course, several reasons why the Pharisees wished to discredit Jesus and silence him permanently. One significant one was that he had the ability to see through their hypocrisy and legalistic narrow-mindedness. And, as we know, on occasion he exposed this hypocrisy publicly and unsparingly. Their resentment for this exposure stood in marked contrast to the Samaritan woman at the well who happily told her neighbors and friends, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. For her, the truth did set her free whereas for the Pharisees the truth drew the bonds of sin yet tighter as they resisted insight into themselves and closed their hearts to the light and liberation of the truth.
We are not always as fortunate as the Samaritan woman and although we may not be as resistant to the truth as were some of the Pharisees, we certainly all have areas of our lives that we resist exposing to the light of God’s truth. This is partly related to the fact that growth in the truth about ourselves (what we also call self-knowledge) often reaches us through our daily interactions with other people–especially with those we find difficult and dislike. Instead of allowing the initially painful light of truth to shine on us through such people, we deflect this unflattering light and focus it back on the one whose presence and person threatens to uncover our flaws, failings and spiritual immaturity. And so, for example, when someone elicits an outburst of anger from us, we might find ourselves automatically justifying our reaction and blaming and discrediting the offending person for our anger.
And as understandable as this kind of reaction is, we need to be aware that we are basically replicating the behavior of the Pharisees and reaping the same fruits of self-delusion and continued enslavement to the spiritually stunting untruths about ourselves and others. This, in turn, impairs genuine and meaningful relationships with others and in doing so undermines our very humanity which is created for relationship and loving union with God and with one another. For all too often, it is the still unacknowledged or the unknown warped and sinful aspects of ourselves that stand in the way of happiness that only comes when we are in right relationship with God and one another. Therefore, as we come forward to receive Christ, our Bread of Life, let us ask for that liberating grace granted the Samaritan woman so that in welcoming ever deeper insights into our still unredeemed selves, we may open our hearts and relationships to the saving, healing, and transforming power of God who came that we might have life and have it abundantly.