In his interview with Alastair Campbell in GQ last week, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby was pointedly asked about his view on the morality of homosexual activity. He was asked, “Is gay sex sinful?” Welby had responded, “You know very well that is a question I can’t give a straight answer to. Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through.” After a mildly embarrassed pause, he then continued his response on why he could not give a straight answer:
Because I do not do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.
His answer reminded me of then presidential aspirant Barack Obama’s response in 2008 to the question about when human life began. He had responded, “Whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.” He would later admit the inadequacy of his response but the damage had already been done.
Self-deception has become the order of the day when faced with difficult questions about faith and morals. We hear the voice of our conscience appealing to the truth but we do not want to offend others and we surely do not want to be called bigots or accused of being intolerant or insensitive. So we feign either ignorance of the truth or uncertainty of what the truth is and demands from us.
An episode in Mt 21:23-28 sheds light on the nature and consequences of self-deception. The Jewish temple leaders had asked Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus promised to reveal this to them if only they would first answer his question about the origin of John the Baptist’s baptism. He asked them, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” They weighed out in private their answers as well as the consequences, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they replied with those familiar words of self-deception, “We do not know.” Consequently, they did not receive an answer from Jesus, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Some pointers from this Gospel event above: It is so easy for us to deceive ourselves and others when faced with difficult questions; but we cannot deceive God. We cannot deceive God because God made us and He knows everything about us. God also knows what benefits we have received from Him and from others and what we can do with them. Continuing in self-deception blocks our hearts from true revelation of Jesus Christ. Only true knowledge and love of Jesus Christ delivers us from the bondage of self-deception and reveals to us our true selves by revealing the true God to us.
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees and Sadducees try to deceive Jesus by flattering words and then by asking, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus cannot be deceived. He knows the evil intent of their hearts behind their nice words, “Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites.” Jesus also knows the benefits that they have received from the Emperor Caesars’ coin which they had on their person, “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Jesus also knows what they can and should do with the coin, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Finally, Jesus also know what benefits they have received from God and what they can and should do with it, “Repay to God what belongs to God.”
In Sunday’s First Reading, God called, named and gifted Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, for a particular purpose – to set the Israelites free from Babylon and to bring them home to Jerusalem and grant them religious freedom. Cyrus does not know who God is and is still worshipping his pagan god, Bel Marduk. But God knows King Cyrus and all the benefits that He has given to him and what Cyrus can do with these, “For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.” Cyrus, who lacks knowledge of the God who has blessed him with amazing benefits, still unknowingly fulfills the purpose of God. How much more can we who know and love God as our heavenly Father fulfill the divine purpose today without excuses?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has made us and gifted us with many blessings and benefits for a divine purpose. God knows us well and what we can do with the spiritual and material benefits we have received from Him. He has given us an intellect to grasp His truth and a will that moves us towards what is good, true and beautiful. We just cannot deceive Him. God has absolute rights over us and over all that we own. While giving back to the society and others for the benefits we have received from them, we must also give to God what is His own due from His own benefits bestowed on us without trying to be deceptive in any way.
There are many ways in which we fall into self-deception today. We make excuses for our failures in loving and serving God instead of taking full responsibility for our own failures. We try to hide the evil in our hearts and the evil that we do, pretending that we do not need to repent or to confess our sins and receive divine forgiveness and mercy. We try to bribe God by doing good things to win blessings from Him. We try to get blessings from God but we do not care to be faithful in our relationship with Him. Then we easily pretend that we do not know what God’s will is for us or we pretend that it is just beyond our ability to fulfill it.
In this age of self-deception, let us heed the warning of St. Paul, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…So they are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-19,20) Indeed, God has done more than show us the truth about Himself in Creation. The Truth has become Incarnate in Jesus Christ, revealing Himself in Scripture and Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by His Church and speaking to us in our consciences today. He has done all this so that in Him we find both “truth and grace,”(Jn 1:17) the truth that sets us free from self-deception and the grace to live by this truth.
The Christians in Thessalonica “received the word of God in great affliction” but they did not try to make any excuses for not bearing fruit. Despite the persecutions that they faced, they made use of the gifts of faith, hope and love that God has given to them to fulfill His divine purpose for them. St. Paul commends them for their “Work of faith” by which they willingly showed that Christ alone was their ultimate Lord to be obeyed and depended upon. St. Paul commends them for their “Labor of love” by which they love their neighbors and others out of love for Christ their Lord. Lastly, they are commended for their “Endurance of hope” by which they endured every suffering at the hands of their fellow citizens for the sake of Christ as they looked forward to their heavenly home. God knows the good that they could and endure with His gifts of faith, hope and love.
The greatest of gifts from God – faith, hope and love – are all that we too need to give to others what is due to them without taking anything away from what is God’s. God knows also what we can do with these gifts by the help of His grace if only we resist the temptation to try to deceive Him, others or ourselves.
Our Eucharist is an encounter with the Author of Grace, the one whom we can never deceive because He made us and knows us well, and who knows what we can do and endure with His grace. Let us receive Him with honesty and humility, without any form of deception on our part so that we will know the true God-man, Jesus Christ, and the power of His grace in us to do what He, Mother Mary, and all the saints have done throughout the ages – give to God what is due to God without any form of deception.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
image: By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jhi L. Scott [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons