The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.
For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.
I was a stranger and you invited me in.
I needed clothes and you clothed me.
I was sick and you looked after me.
I was in prison and you came to visit me.
“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus in the Gospel of John. The dictionary defines truth as: “the true or actual state of a matter; conformity of fact or reality; a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like.” Over the past 4 years, in particular, our political climate has fueled many situations that lead people to be compelled to ponder “what is truth?” There are “fact checkers” in the media that spend hours trying to ferret out what is true and what is not. There are those who point fingers saying that everything in the media is not true but “fake.” There are those who take sides, saying one side has more truth and that the other side is just ignorant. So, what is meant when someone says, “He/she is just ignorant?”
In our culture, we tend to think of ignorance as an innocent not-knowing. Someone who is deemed to be ignorant is just uneducated, either generally or in the current area of dispute, and just doesn’t have knowledge of the facts. If they did know the facts, they would know the truth, and no longer be ignorant. It is true that we are all ignorant and not-knowing about many things. Not one of us can know everything about everything no matter how many years of education we’ve had nor how many books we’ve read.
However, there seems to be a different kind of ignorance at work in our world today, the ignorance of willfully looking away, of ignoring someone or something willfully. Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa says this willful looking away is a grave act of denying what is already conscious within us, and that doing so is a crime against the essence of things. When we willfully look away, we are “worse than being blind, having sight but no vison,” as Helen Keller said.
Jesus is reported to have said “I tell you the truth” 27 times in the Gospel of Matthew, 12 times in Mark, 7 times in Luke, and 26 times in the Gospel of John. Those of us who profess to be Christians, to be followers of Jesus, often willfully turn away from the truth Jesus taught. Jesus’ teachings often seem to be just nice platitudes. He didn’t seriously mean what he said, did he?
Feed the hungry? Take care of the widow and orphan? Invite in the stranger and the poor? Look after the sick and imprisoned? “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Really?
How often do we willfully look away when we hear that 20-40% of school children in both urban and rural areas have daily food insecurity? How often do we willfully look away when we know that the number of homeless families is increasing because of lack of affordable family housing in their communities? How often do we willfully look away when we hear that the federal minimum wage has not increased from the current rate of $7.25/hour since 2009? How often do we willfully look away when we hear about the increasing gun violence, both mass shootings and suicides, in our country? And our willfully looking away does not occur only in politics either, but also in our families and personal lives. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.”
“Now you are getting too political,” you might be saying, but all politics is moral! Jesus’ speech, actions, and teachings were deeply political. If we are truly followers of Jesus, we must take up Jesus’ teachings of truth to build, here and now, the Kingdom of justice, equality, and unity that he envisioned. We must each be God’s workers in the field and do our part in whatever way we can.
Deep down inside each human being the truth is present in our inner knowing. We are not ignorant (unknowing)! We must learn to discern between an innocent not-knowing and a willful looking away. The truth is always there in our innermost being, placed there by the Spirit. We must take time to sit quietly, look deeply, and ask for the Spirit to enlighten us and move us, as Jesus has challenged, to truly become God’s co-creators of that Just Kingdom. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.”