Over the centuries, human beings have turned lying into an art. We’re especially good at lying to ourselves. That particular sin costs us dearly—as we learn from a great piece of literature: The Brothers Karamazov. In this novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky offers the same piece of advice Shakespeare’s Polonius gives his son—“To thine own self be true.”
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Dostoevsky was a Christian who took Jesus’ words to heart. This Sunday’s gospel reading (Jn 14:15-21) must have played a part, as it shows Jesus making the same connection between truth and love, while explaining why this is such a difficult connection for humanity to make:
Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.
In Sunday’s second reading (1 Pt 3:15-18), Peter—one of humanity’s greatest liars, as he found a way to convince three inquisitors that he didn’t know his Master—shares with the rest of us self-deceivers the great truth behind the faith he finally found and that we so desperately struggle to grasp:
For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.
Jesus described himself as the way, the truth and the life—as well as the gateway to God. He also made Peter promise three times—the same number of times Peter lied about not knowing Jesus—that he would tend to his flock. That flock represents the good that Jesus knew was as salvageable among us 21st century Samaritans as it was among our first-century counterparts. Sunday’s first reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) documents humanity’s ancient desire for deliverance from evil:
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. … [U]nclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people. … Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them.
Visitors from outer space might come away from their earthly adventure thinking “humans wouldn’t know the truth if it fell on them.” Each of us should pray the Holy Spirit falls on us before we push each other out of the way.