Have you ever been afraid to speak the truth?
We live in times when others want to restrict our right to speak our thoughts freely. Our Constitution guarantees us the Right to Free Speech as a basic right of American citizens.
Yet we observe every day that there are many, many layers of restrictions upon speech. This is particularly true of “Righteous” speech. In fact, it is not considered “polite” to speak of your faith in public. We can easily become isolated from others or even disenfranchised if they disapprove of our speech.
Look how hard it is to speak against abortion in public. What has happened in the last 50 years that a righteous public disdain for killing babies has led to an opposite social tabu against speaking out against abortion and infanticide. In fact, if we even question some matters in public we invite serious criticism, as if we are “racists” to question immigration laws or climate change or even American history or traditional marriage or gender. We’ve seen our universities become places where discourse if often not tolerated if the conversation doesn’t support popular political rhetoric.
It has become so serious that physicians can lose their jobs for questioning Covid 19 vaccines or mask policies. Science is no longer science when it can’t be debated in public. Clearly the vaccines are not protecting the public against Covid. Meanwhile we are watching people lose their employment, even in critical jobs if they don’t get vaccinated. Teachers, doctors, soldiers, pilots and many others are being terminated for not receiving the vaccines, even though it is more and more clear that vaccines will not prevent the disease.
Honest, righteous dialog is the safest route to public safety and order. Instead, people are shut down, cancelled or refused the right to speak or work if they differ. This is frightening for our society. Our country was founded upon the people’s right to speak out against oppression. Public discourse was heavily punished in our country by the British in the 18th century. Violence and war resulted.
Could it happen again today? Prohibition against free speech, leading to open conflicts? It is already happening, perhaps more than at any time in my lifetime. First, we had public restrictions upon freedom of religious speech, then upon challenges to public speech regarding faith and morals. Look what happened to public discussion of gender and marriage just in the last ten or more years. And now, parents are losing control of the education of their children. This never ends well in human history. I’m concerned for public order and safety.
The answer to this danger is righteous persons, unafraid to speak the truth. It can and will get ugly. There are powerful forces lined up to put down dissent, even including “public” forums like Facebook and Twitter and the press. Watch how the public discourse on Covid is playing out right now. We need “righteous” people not afraid to speak truth.
Jesus encountered the wrath of public criticism in his own hometown, in his own synagogue, in the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus went to his own hometown to first announce the beginning of his public ministry. In the synagogue he was handed a scroll of Isaiah to read. Isaiah the prophet was highly venerated. Everyone knew that Isaiah’s prophecies had to be fulfilled by the Messiah, God’s anointed. Soon after his Baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
Then, the implication of these words began to sink in. If, the son of Joseph and Mary was the Messiah …. This was simply too much. If it was true, then they would have to proclaim the Messiah. They would even have to confront the Temple authorities and the Romans. So, they decided, in the synagogue, to kill him that day, by throwing him off a cliff where the town was built.
Jeremiah was fearful of the power of the truth when God told him we would become a great prophet.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
Jeremiah was afraid. But God told him,
… stand up and tell them all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.
We know that many are persecuted and martyred for standing up against powerful interests. By our Baptism we are called to speak truth, even when we know it can lead to our own downfall. But that is who we are, Christians formed by the Word of God into witnesses for the truth.
Jesus’ lesson, each time he came into a group of people was,
“Do not be afraid.”
The people in the synagogue were obviously afraid of Jesus.
And, Jesus told his Church,
“Know that I am with you always.”
And here we are 2,000 years later, here in the Parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, being challenged to not be afraid of the truth.