Speaking Truth to Power

It’s been a mantra of those who speak out in societies facing the consequences of oppressed people. It first appeared in the pamphlet “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence” in 1955. But it’s actually an ancient Greek concept known as “παρρησια” which literally means “to speak freely.” And the idea has been used to non-violently speak to those who hold authority in such a way that exposes the mistreatment of others.

But what do you do when a society devolves into segments of society stating that “words ARE violence?” You’re accused of “harming” the person if you say the wrong word.

Plain speaking can get you into real trouble, especially in times of heightened societal tensions. It can even get you killed!

Look at Matthew 23:29-39:

The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The plain language Jesus uses for the group who were considered by most of the people in Jesus’ time of being the most pious and observant is an example of “speaking truth to power.” But what harsh truths they were. Can you imagine someone saying these words to the assembled leaders of a Faith in such a public setting? What do you think the reaction would be from those leaders being confronted with these words?

Jesus uncovers the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day by first confronting them with their outward piety to the tombs of the prophets that their ancestors killed! The Jews decorated the tombs of these truth-tellers much like we still do today of the burial places of the saints. As an aside, this shows that this natural and helpful desire to honor those who have gone before is a very ancient practice. But the Lord causes these religious leaders of doing this outward piety with shallow intentions. He accuses them of doing this veneration of the prophets in such a way that they forget their fathers were the ones who martyred the prophets. At the heart of this powerful moment is the Lord Jesus confronting these men with their lack of humility, their lack of an honest confrontation with the spiritual blindness that infected their ancestors and now infected them with blindness to recognize just Who Jesus is!

Then He confronts them with the question “how are you going to escape being sentenced to hell?” He then goes on to predict the proof that they are just like their forefathers in murdering the prophets by telling them they are going to do the same thing to those who declare His message all over the world.

But the Lord ends this verbal onslaught with a cry of compassion. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” marks one of the most painfilled sections of the Lord’s words in the Gospels as He laments the spiritual blindness of His own people. And He gives them one more prophecy: There will come a day when people will line the streets crying out the Davidic kingly declaration “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

You see, dear ones, the cost of outward piety without that piety being motivated by both humility and love turns even the most beautiful worship into an ugly display. And no amount of “holy” practices can hide forever the darkness of hypocrisy and performance for the sake of controlling others.

Today, are you willing to hear “truth to power” in your insistence on controlling your own life? Are you willing to change the course of your life and your choices because you finally confront your own lack of humility and love? If you have that kind of courage today, you will finally be Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. Dear Lord, I confess I am so quick to see the hypocrisy in others and even self-righteously call them out on it! But I hate being confronted with my own hypocrisy and my regular temptation of just “going through the motions” of worship and prayer. Please forgive me, Lord, and grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother. Amen

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