13 September 2020
The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 18:21-35 + Homily
16 Minutes 32 Seconds
Link to the Readings:
(New American Bible, Revised Edition)
From the parish bulletin of Sunday 13 September 2020:
In our city accustomed to protest demonstrations of all sorts, a recent one was particularly dismaying and even frightening. The anarchistic chants were bad enough, but the frightfulness was in the glazed eyes of the expressionless marchers, like the “pod people” in the 1956 cult film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Carrying signs supplied for them, they chanted refrains called out by a leader as they moved through one of our pricier neighborhoods. As a boy, the black-and-white film was scary, though in later years it was amusing to watch again, but now it has taken on an unsettling reality in the living color of live people.
Mind control is a signature of corrupt politics, and George Orwell said that “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” It is easy to appropriate the brains of people who are disturbed or idealistic or both. In the eighteenth century, the physicist and satirist George Lichtenberg volunteered that “The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted.” That is the essential psychology of heresies in religion, and it is also true of platforms in politics.
In any election season, when information is twisted by “disinformation,” one can learn with profit the experience of the Church as she has confronted distorters of the Gospel. A vital instance is the way Saint Paul detected the errors among the first Greek Christians on the island of Crete. Being a man of erudition, which his true humility allowed him to remark without affectation, Paul quotes a minor poet of about 600 BC, Epimenides: “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
Epimenides is the same sage that Paul cites when he speaks to the philosophers of the Areopagus in Athens. The verse sent to Titus is paraphrased by the Apostle in Acts 17, when he speaks of the One “in whom we live and move and have our being.” A discovery of the full text of Epimenides’s poem “Cretica” in the early 1900’s by the formidable English scholar J. Rendel Harris, makes clear that the lying was a specific lie—namely about a tomb built in contradiction to the supposed immortality of Zeus. This resolves what has been called the “Epimenides Paradox:” If Epimenides said that all Cretans are liars, how can we trust Epimenides who was himself a Cretan? But in fact, the deceitfulness of the Cretans was only about trying to entomb immortality.
Saint Paul invoked the gift of “diakrisis,” which is the discernment of truth from falsehood (1 Corinthians 12:10). Never, and especially not in times of political propaganda, should lies intimidate, so long as one has that discerning gift to know the difference between what comes from Christ, the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), and the talking heads on television.