We live in an age, of course, in which the category of “fake news” is recently and frequently invoked by people who aren’t happy with what the content of the news actually is. The idea is that if you can only discredit the bearer of the news, then the news must not be true. So it is important for us Christians to remember that there was no such thing as journalism or publishing houses or mass circulation of information at the time of Jesus. The communication of news took quite a bit of time, and it was not validated on the basis of who got the most viewers, or the widest number of followers, or the loudest voice or the biggest yard sign. News was validated on the basis of what people actually observed going on in their presence, and it was up to them to try to understand why and how it was happening. It is significant, in that regard, for us to remember that when Jesus was handed over to trial and eventually to death, none of his accusers ever attempted to deny that he was a worker of wonders and miracles and healings. Everybody had seen these things…no room for fake news. Instead, as the gospels tells us, they had to come up with other theories in order to discredit Jesus, like e.g. “he casts out demons by the prince of demons” or “he claims to be a king” or “that blind man wasn’t ever really blind at all—it’s just someone who looks like him” or “this Samaritan woman is an unreliable witness, call in somebody else.” But when the good news of God’s reign begins to break in the real lives of real people, then the claims of “fake news” no longer are persuasive. People can actually see and experience compassion, forgiveness, love, mercy, justice, and peace-making in their very presence. These are their own proofs of what is actually going on. (Or not.) And the more that the purveyors of untruth, injustice, violence and bigotry come to understand that, the more desperately they cry out that truth isn’t truth and it’s all fake news.
What Jesus said and did in his ministry on earth was not always popular news, but it wasn’t fake, and his witness cannot be denied. Even his enemies didn’t try to deny it. And what is so amazing about Jesus’ career is that he constantly—constantly—chose those people who were least likely to have a voice in usual circumstances to be the most bold proclaimers of what is most true and good about human existence…to refute the purveyors of “fake news.” He chose little children. He chose the poor. He chose aliens and immigrants. He chose prostitutes, the sick, the disabled, the possessed, the criminals, the sinners. You cannot read the New Testament and come away with the idea that the reign of God was being accurately proclaimed through the normal channels of media and information and authority and “dignity.” It was breaking in from the margin. This is not new information. The bible hasn’t changed in the past several, hundred years. So if any of these thoughts seem radical it’s not because the life story of our Lord has been re-written. Perhaps we’ve been invited to wake up to the real news that has always been there. Specifically, the news that Jesus isn’t usually a mainstream kind of guy in his behavior. He is most attentive to those who don’t have a voice. In the case of today’s gospel we can see that as literally as is possible; he attends to the man who is physically unable to speak and hear…and he heals him in the most intimately tangible way possible—he sticks his fingers into the man’s ears and puts his own saliva on the man’s tongue. There was nothing fake about that news—everybody could see it and talk about it, and they did. Now the only question was, “What could this possibly mean?”
That’s still our question today. And what it surely means, among other things, is that the truly fake news is the idea that the blessed ones of this world are the rich and famous, the loud and strong, the glamorous and beautiful, the charming and athletic, the powerful and the well-armed. There’s your fake news.
Whenever Jesus confronted such people in scripture he did not despise or reject them, but he warned them and challenged them to listen to different news…the news of beatitude, the news of magnificat, the news of the cross:
It is the poor who are the true God-bearers among us
It is the lowly who best understand the real God and God’s intentions
It is the disabled who have first claim on God’s affection
It is the rejected and despised who have the most compelling truth to tell
It is the repentant sinner in whom God most delights, not the smooth operator
Jesus didn’t just talk about all that. He lived it—in a way that was plain for all to see—and he died for it. Nobody was left to wonder which news was for real and which was fake. His followers believed because of what they saw and heard.
Sometimes, when we human beings have lost our way, hearing real news can be upsetting or disorienting, news like:
Every human being has inviolable dignity, even immigrants, even criminals, even the unborn, even the very sick and aged, everyone
Being a bishop or cardinal or pope in our church does not exempt a person from sin or its consequences.
Our planet is a delicate life source on which we are utterly dependent for survival.
For those with senses to perceive, those news items are all self-evident, they don’t need to be filtered through the spin on “real” or “fake.” We can see and experience them if we choose to. And in turn, we the Christian community are responsible for being the clear evidence of the truth of that news for the whole world to see and know. This is no small task when the narratives of the actually fake news are so strong.
This is why we need to do Eucharist here regularly, because the task is large. There we commit ourselves to being the bearers and do-ers of news that is true and good and divine.