By Canon Gerry Conroy
When you read St John’s Gospel and letters you get a sense that he was the type of person who saw things clearly in terms of black and white, it was either right or it was wrong, there was no in-between, no grey areas. Some people are like that. It led me to ask whether his worry in that Gospel passage was about control and power or was it concern for the wholeness of truth? Granted that most of the time it is very difficult to find completely pure motives for our actions; they are usually mixed, so possibly John’s motives were mixed also: a bit of wanting to control the power of Christ in miracles and a bit of wanting to make sure Christ wasn’t being used by someone for their own profit.
Christ doesn’t seem to have the same worry; He seems more interested in the fact that someone else is doing what is right and good rather than being concerned with his own glory. But he also warns everyone that there will be a harsh judgement on anyone who leads people astray and makes coming to the truth for them more difficult. There will be a day of reckoning.
We are all different and for some people if you don’t accept the whole truth then you might as well be a million miles away from it. For others, there is an acceptance that the truth is something we are all trying to come to terms with and what is important is that a person still wants it in their life. What unites us all as Christians is that we believe Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But we can’t avoid the message that there will be a day of reckoning.
In this Gospel passage, Christ seems to be a bit more patient with us than St John would be; he is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and the space to continue growing. But there are also limits to what Jesus will allow. Anyone who leads another astray will be held responsible for it. There is a certain amount of freedom permitted in our journey to the truth, but the freedom is not infinite and not without its accountability.
Perhaps what we need to be attentive to is that the search for truth can lead us to become idealist but unconnected to the reality of life: St James in his letter adds a bit of common sense and reality. A truth we hold dear that ignores reality can be more of a hindrance to finding the Truth just as the claim that we are seeking to do God’s will without taking into account the reality of the world and of our lives is more about ourselves more about that control and power for ourselves than a real search for Truth and God. Christ summed up the Law as Love of God and love of neighbour. The truth is, the reality is, that we can’t have one love without the other love. In his letter, St James elsewhere said that Faith without works is dead. We can’t say we believe, that we are doing the will of God but seek to live in an ivory tower cut off from the reality of life. Faith has something important to say about where we are in our lives, and how best to live our lives because God helps us know reality and Truth and it is faith that keeps us open to the infinite in our love and help us love more fully, keeps us faithful to Christ and the Truth he brings. If faith doesn’t do that , if it doesn’t open our eyes to the reality of other people’s lives there is something lacking in our hold on Truth. Faith isn’t just about what we believe, it is also teaching us how we should go about loving one another.