The Truth We Refuse To See

the emperor's new clothes by roweig

Fourth Sunday of Lent


“Many, many years ago there lived an emperor, who thought so much of new clothes that he spent all his money in order to obtain them. His only ambition was to be always well dressed.” Hans Christian Andersen tells the tale of how two scoundrels tricked an emperor, who was extremely vain and extremely gullible, into believing his new set of clothes were lavish and beautiful beyond description. They had supposedly worked hard all night to produce what they so convincingly boasted were garments unrivaled in splendor and magnificence. And all his court officials agreed, pouring even more praise upon something that wasn’t there. And in his vanity and misguided self-importance, he desired everyone in his kingdom should see and admire his new clothes.

“I am ready,” said the emperor. “Does not my suit fit me marvelously?” Then he turned once more to the looking-glass, that people should see he admired his garments. The chamberlains, who were to carry the train, stretched their hands to the ground as if to lift up a train, and pretended to hold something in their hands. They did not want people to know that they could not see anything.

The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of their windows exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!” Nobody wanted to let others know they really saw nothing, for fear they would be regarded unfit for office or too stupid. No emperor’s clothes [or absence of them] was ever more admired.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried the whole people at last. And the emperor finally realized that they were right, yet he thought to himself, “I must see this through to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist. (Hans Christian Andersen. The Emperor’s New Suit. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/EmpNew.shtml)

april-fools-day-2014

Mark Twain famously said once, “Children and fools always speak the truth.” I suppose children will do that, much to their parents’ horror sometimes because they can’t tell the difference yet. Fools will do that as well because they don’t care what others think, or they know no one will take them seriously. Maybe children and fools just don’t have the sense or the filters we expect mature and reasonable people should have. Maybe they don’t know any better. It also escapes them that Jesus commanded us to love one another, and that courtesy and discretion are but extensions of that care and concern we should have for our neighbor.

And then there’s the race for the White House horrendously unfolding right before our eyes. I can’t believe I see what’s going on. I know you all can’t either. And still it goes on. Who will tell the emperor the truth about his clothes? I have heard some children talk, and I know a few fools have taken a stab at it. They do get lots of laughs on the late night talk shows. So why do many people still seem not to see? I’m afraid that if they really do see and are not deceived, that means we’re in a world of trouble.

And yet I’m not really even talking politics. We all know the rules that govern politics can often defy popular convention and reason and good taste. And every election cycle just plunges us down to ever new lows. But Jesus was more concerned with his listeners’ relationship with God, and that they could be so unwilling to recognize how a blind man given sight was evidence of God’s mercy and compassion despite it happening right before their eyes. Indeed, when the blind man gained his ability to see, those who had always claimed they could see themselves became blind.

presidential race 2016

Now it might seem easier to convince people of the truth when we have physical and scientific evidence to prove it. And yet there are still people in the world today who do not believe the Holocaust ever happened, or 9/11, or that a man ever set foot on the moon. Yet some find it easier to believe any number of clever hoaxes designed to fool or entertain or mislead. April 1 is just around the corner. You never know. Yet how do we even attempt to speak of faith, and the forgiveness of sins, and eternal salvation? We have even less physical and scientific evidence to sway mature and reasonable people, never mind that there are those who claim to be Christian who have done and continue to do some really horrible things, which makes it even harder still to talk about God.

But Jesus was just trying to point out that God is full of mercy and compassion. He gave sight to the blind man, and left us to come to our own conclusions. Those who were dead set against him, who did not believe anything he tried to teach them about God, who were convinced he was a danger to their teaching authority and their political standing, tried any number of excuses rather than let the facts speak for themselves. First they found it difficult to believe a blind man could be given sight. They were so used to seeing him begging at his usual spot. “No, it’s not him. It just looks like him.” And when he continued to claim he was the same person, they asked him repeatedly what happened. Yet instead of embracing this miracle of him receiving his sight, they decided it made more sense to discredit his story. “The man you say healed you, he is a sinner.” They even dragged his parents in thinking maybe he wasn’t really their son, or that he wasn’t really blind from birth like he claimed. And when that argument went nowhere, they decided they couldn’t deal with it, and threw him out of the synagogue.

blind-man-healing

St. Paul reminds us that the darkness of our unbelief has been shattered by the light of Christ. Now that we have come to know of God’s wonderful deeds in our own lives, of his gift of peace and forgiveness for our sins, of our reconciliation with our neighbor, of our being raised to the dignity of God’s children, we cannot return to the darkness of unbelief. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

In the end, each of us needs to examine the evidence ourselves. We need to see what is going on in the world and in our own lives. We might even discover God doing amazing things. Or we can resist the truth staring us in the face like Jesus’ opponents. Is it just easier to ignore the truth? Do we tell ourselves that God will not allow us to come to ruin? So if we end up in worse shape than we are now, it will only prove that God does not desire our good, or worse, that God wishes us ill, or even that there is no God. Yet it would make more sense that we listen to the children and the fools, and admit we have been blind, that we refused to see, and that the emperor had no clothes all along.

Clasped_hands2

Rolo B Castillo © 2016