At a certain age, kids love to throw things at each other, get each other really dirty. Say hitting your brother with a big, juicy rotten tomato right out of the garden — it makes a satisfying splat and a wonderful mess. Or a handful of mud, just the right consistency. The victim’s appearance is totally changed by a direct hit: physically filthy. But this change is just superficial and easily cleaned up with a good bath.
Mudslinging in public life by adults is similar but much more damaging. Some people use every means at their disposal to sully their opponent’s reputation, giving the most negative interpretation possible to everything they ever did. Mudslingers are not looking for the truth, really. They are just looking for something to promote themselves at the other’s expense. Innocent voters hear this and gradually begin to believe, at least part of it, that the victim of the mudslinging must be a little crazy and the electorate would be crazy to vote for him.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is the victim of mudslinging by his opponents. Some of his adversaries have started saying that Jesus has made a pact with the devil and that it’s by the devil’s power that he casts out demons. Jesus defends himself by asking quite logically: “If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” But the damage has been done.
Mudslingers are not looking for the truth, and so many people were beginning to believe the worst about Jesus, that he was not who he said he was. It is at a time like this when people in public life depend most on their loyal followers, and the same is true for Jesus. His disciples are the people who know him the best and so are not deceived by the mudslingers. They have made his cause their cause. They believe Jesus when he says, “If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
There is plenty of mudslinging going on in our world today — and you in the legal profession deal with this more than most anyone else with the tragic decline in civil discourse in the public square. Everywhere we see people, nations and institutions that seek to promote themselves unfairly at someone else’s expense.
We have become so used to being manipulated by fake news and outrageous distortions that these days, even we have a hard time recognizing the truth when we hear it, especially when that truth is difficult and requires a change in our behavior and attitudes. And this is not limited to politics. This can occur within families, within schools, within any human organization — whenever someone looks not for the truth but rather only for things to be used against their opponent.
As Christians, we are called to be witnesses for the truth and to stand up for what is right, even when this is unpopular or inconvenient. Even when we don’t particularly like the person or group that we are defending. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and so he says clearly in today’s Gospel, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” And after all, isn’t it the case that even in our own experience, we know that lies can do a lot of damage, but the one who ends up damaged the most, long term, is the liar himself. And public policy rooted in falsehood is bound to fail. You and I are called to be witnesses to the truth in all that we do.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 7 during the annual Red Mass.
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