4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 28, 2018 (Thoman)

January 28, 2018 | Holy Spirit (SH/HT) 

Dt. 18:15-20 I Cor 7:32-35 | Mk 1:21-28

I. We hear a lot about “fake news” these days.

  • when that expression first surfaced in the public dialogue, I wondered what in the world that meant and I thought the expression itself was fake!  
  • but since then I’ve done some research and learned “fake news” is not a new concept at all and has been present throughout all of human history; it goes all the way back to ancient times when kings would spread false information and make themselves look more powerful than they really were
  • basically, fake news is the spreading of misinformation either online or in the traditional media
  • it is commonly intentional, but not always as some people can get caught up in unknowingly spreading misinformation without really having done their homework
  • fake news is misinformation based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive; it can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions and serve economic interests
  • fake news has become such a hot topic these days that Pope Francis addressed the issue in his annual World Day of Communications message released this week on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales – his comments are really helpful in trying to cut through all the fake news and get to, well, get to the truth!  (I suggest you read it.)
  • Pope Francis cited the tempter in the Garden of Eden as the first example of fake news: the tempter distorted the truth by questioning the woman if God had really said they should not eat of any of the trees in the garden. The woman corrected the snake by saying, no, it is only the tree in the middle of the garden.  But the tempter continued to twist the truth by saying you will not die if you eat that fruit – in fact, you become like gods. And the woman was taken into his lies.  Thus the tempter is called the “Father of lies.” 

II. It sounds like trying to sort out fake news from the truth is what is happening in both the first reading today and the gospel.

  • In the first reading Moses is addressing the people and cautions them to listen to true prophets and not be taken in by false prophets. The true prophet is recognized by whether or not the prophet has truly listened to God.
  • In the gospel, the people in Capernaum find themselves astonished by Jesus’ teaching. In some fashion, they think Jesus is teaching with some kind of authority which is different from the scribes. They noticed that even the unclean spirits obey him. In sounds like they are, in some way, sorting through fake news and looking for the truth.

III. Unfortunately, as people of faith, we are besieged by fake news from all sides.  With the distortions, half truths and outright lies, perpetrated by secularism, relativism and so many other half-baked isms in our world, it is really difficult to gain a clear perspective on what is true – even within our own system of faith. That fake news can creep into our faith system and distort the truth. If we’re not careful we can end up allowing the secular world to tell us what to believe.  In his World Day of communications message, Pope Francis reminds us that the only truly reliable truth is God alone – and God as revealed through Jesus.  God is the only one we can lean upon for the truth.  Thus Jesus says, “I am the truth.” 

This means we must truly listen, truly listen to God’s word. Moses said a true prophet has listened to God’s word and speaks God’s word, not his or her own word. For our part, we must be willing to honestly listen to God speaking to us through our prayer, through our reflections, through those trust-worthy persons who support us in faith.  Pope Francis also suggests one way to test the truth of information is to consider the fruits of the statement. Does a statement produce division, quarrels and hardship? Or does it produce constructive dialogue and positive results? So, for example, if someone in your family says something about someone else in your family, does that statement produce good fruit or does it cause division, heart ache, bad feelings, resentment? Is the statement true or fake news?

IV. God’s truth is revealed to us through the person of Jesus. That truth is so powerful that it even casts out unclean spirits. The people in the gospel are amazed that even those unclean spirits obey Jesus. Surely, there is something authentic about Jesus and who he is.  This faith we have is a precious treasure. We must not allow it to become distorted and contaminated. Instead, by being attentive and aware, we can safeguard that treasure and allow it to bring us true freedom from evil, lead us to respect the human dignity of each person and find peace and joy in this life as well as the next.

Fr. Dwayne Thoman