Jesus on Truth, Passion, and Speaking Truth to Power

One of the useful lessons I learned from the spiritual historian Louis Cognet in my studies in Paris was this: Sometimes it is best to go to the opposite of a spiritual concept first in order to understand the concept. 

Music video for John Lennon’s classic anti-war/pro-peace song, Power to the People, inspired by the Black Panthers. Originally posted to YouTube by johnlennon

Thus, to understand justice, one may begin by considering injustice and its consequences first.  To understand peace, one might first meditate on Putin’s war and all its consequences and death and destruction. 

And to understand Truth, it is sometimes useful to go to untruth, to lies, first and consider their consequences.  How there would have been no January 6 insurrection sans the lies of a “rigged election” that were knowingly promulgated by Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s conscience-free journalism.

This week one DM reader offered a criticism that “calling people bad names” is not something Jesus would do.  After all, while being nailed to the cross, he asked for forgiveness for his captors who “did not know what they were doing.”  I feel I should respond to this criticism so it can be an educational moment for us all.

Daniel Berrigan SJ, reciting his poem “Some” dedicated to all who work for justice, followed by protest montage w/Dar Williams singing “I Had No Right”.

First, it was not the executioners who were responsible for Jesus’ death—indeed they were carrying out orders and very likely had no idea who Jesus was or why the Empire was so threatened by him as to torture him to death on a cross.  The orders came from above.  Thus, “they did not know what they were doing.”

Second, Jesus said these words as he was dying, not while he was going about teaching and preaching and reacting with a conscience to what was going on in his society.  For that, he was plenty direct when taking on evil. 

Read his admonitions in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 23, where he takes on powerful people in his society:   

Alas for you, blind guides!….Fools and blind!

A meme on the intersectional realities of faith and police brutality. Meme created by Police the Police 3.0 and posted originally to Facebook.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You…have neglected the weightier matters of the Law—justice, mercy, good faith!…Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!…You who clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance.

You are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.

Serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape being condemned to hell?

This is what all prophets are called to do–and that includes all of us. Jesus spoke truth with passion to power people.  One should be on guard about so withdrawing into one’s contemplative cocoon that one feels more spiritual than others who are speaking out with passion about injustice and lies. 

One of many teachings I admire from Buddhism is this: There is such a thing as “idiot compassion.”  To allow Mr. Murdoch, one of the most powerful men on the planet, to go unchecked and continue his destruction of democracy by selling lies that he knows are lies is idiot compassion.

See Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo, The Lotus & The Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism & Mystical Christianity.

Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 257-306.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Ferguson uprising demonstration. Photo originally posted to Flickr by MCC Current.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you admire the quest of Jesus for Truth and his passion in criticizing unchecked powers of the powerful?

Recommended Reading

The Lotus & The Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism & Mystical Christianity

How can we move away from “us vs. them” thinking as our surroundings feel more divided and polarized than ever? Co-authors Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo discuss how Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Christianity answer this question from unique points of view, with many commonalities and practical tools to break down the barriers between us.
The Lotus and the Rose is an extraordinary example of what can happen when spiritual leaders from different traditions open up and speak from the heart.” — Paul Chaffee, The Interfaith Observer.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

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26 thoughts on “Jesus on Truth, Passion, and Speaking Truth to Power”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Queries for Contemplation: “Do you admire the quest of Jesus for Truth and his passion in criticizing unchecked powers of the powerful?” Of course I admire Jesus’ quest for, and speaking the truth. But notice who he said it to–the scribers and pharisees, as you point out, not the Roman authorities. Rather of them he said things like: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is Gods” and Pilate is even made to look sympathetic when he said in Luke 23 twice “I find no basis for an accusation against this man” and later “I have examined this man in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.” Because when the gospels were written, the writers make the Jews responsible, because the early church at the time of the writing was going through a blood bath with the Romans, which would go on for over 300 years. And as far as I have researched I have never read about the early Christians speaking out against the injustice of the Romans, rather they willing submitted to torture and death. My study has led me to see that who Jesus and the early Christians protested against were the the Jewish leaders when Jesus was around, and then the Church protested all different Christian groups that didn’t end up becoming the Catholic Church. The Gnostics, the Ebionites and others were persecuted and finally were snuffed out by the dominant Catholic Church after the Emperor Constantine gave them his blessing. The Church also protested against any one who was not in line with their theology like Arius found out–and like you did too Matthew. I never seen Jesus or the early church protesting civil authorities. They rendered unto Caesar what was Caesar, and they saved their protesting within the context of the Church. But you are a prophet. “Prophatas” = one who speaks forth, and God bless you for that–its definitely not my calling. I am prophetic in other areas in my life, but when it comes to politics and economics, I leave it to the politicians and people like you…

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      Politics and economics affect all of us…deeply…and we humans are all being called upon at this critical juncture to take a stand…as we become so much more aware of just how much our strings are being pulled by self interested and narcissistic, behind the scenes, very well heeled power players. We are all being called upon to stand upon, within and FOR our truth…not only for our own sake’s but (for God’s sake!)–the sake of our whole bloomin’ planet and all the wonderful creatures great and small who share it with us. What good is your truth if you don’t or won’t stand up for it politically or economically? Isn’t that a shadowy form of your own dis-empowerment? That doesn’t mean responding out of fear, but out of love, for what we know, deep within our hearts, is right. This is the time for the fifth chakra voice, empowered by the loving heart, to speak out and act upon many things that need to be–in the light of love–reconsidered.

      1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
        Richard Reich-Kuykendall

        Lee, If you reread my post about Jesus and the early Christians’ response to the Romans above, that is the TRUTH of what they did and how they responded to the politics of their time.

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    Matthew Fox, I applaud and am amazed by your response to idiot compassion. It speaks to the heart of the matter of Rupert Murdoch and his family’s influence in the world’s Media. I am Australian and he destroys Prime Ministers and any Prophets here. I applaud his son, James, for distancing himself from the destructive reach of his father. Praise be for people such has yourself who know deeply the corrupted power of men who feed lies to the ignorant, vulnerable and frightened citizens of our fragile Mother Earth. Blessings for your courage, potent insights and for feeding us the bread of the Kingdom. Heather

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    I will repeat my endless gratitude to Matthew, whose brilliant scholarship through the years has introduced me to so many great minds and mystics who have literally changed the way I walk through life. His beautiful articulation of the Cosmic Christ, of the Divine residing in all things and all persons, has been transformative. It inspires me every day to catch myself when I’m so easily tempted to hate those in this world who are doing such immense harm to people and planet. I’m stubbornly beginning to realize that the age-old story of meeting evil with blame only creates the conditions for more of it to arise.
    Deep thanks and blessings to Matthew and everyone here.

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    I am not sure who Matthew is referring to today as the reader that would ever dare to criticize him without getting made ‘a lesson of’ and being referred to as living in a one’s contemplative cocoon with an ‘idiot’s compassion’.

    On Feb 22, I did post a comment regarding the followers of lies as not being ‘bad people’ but not so of the leaders that want to take advantage of them. Here are the words – “Is it not ‘the powerful’ then that want to take ‘leadership’ of a disgruntled group and move the masses, with emotion and discord, to their ‘self-serving’ direction? The ‘disgruntled’, as a whole, are not bad people. They are just people that are disgruntled.” No mention of Jesus on the Cross.

    I see and trust that the “Father of Truth” is using the ‘January 6th committee’ to use its powers to expose the lies and reveal the truth to the world. This is all being done without the tirade of those among us that are reporting on and reacting to what the ‘January 6th committee’ is bringing to light. To say with bravado now that ‘some among us can and should ‘school’ the perpetrators of lies is admirable. But all for now is just talk is it not? What do Buddhists say about words, all talk, without actions? — BB.

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    Yes, I admire much about Jesus’s quest for TRUTH and the various ways in which he spoke this, to those whom were misusing and abusing their positions of authority and power over others… as well as those whom were also being deceived. I see this as a passionate expression… the unfolding, evolving, emergence of the radical love, compassion and mercy of God, in action.

    Love, compassion, mercy and truth-telling are a verb, not a noun! Yes it’s neccessary and important to contemplate, to seek the wisdom counsel of the Holy Spirit, as to what form of expression this love, compassion, mercy and truth needing to be given voice to, is to take. This then is to be followed through on, with radical faith, hope and trust… in the Spirit of God that is in you, with you, for you and moving through you, as you respond to the spiritual reality of this incarnational, living essence and presence. Now I see, why the mystics told us that the incarnation is continously unfolding, evolving and emerging… and not just a one time baptismal event!

    When you choose to do so, you just might be surprised how creative and imaginative Spirit is, in inspiring and empowering you, to move into the deeper TRUTH of embodying, without fear, this radical love, compassion and mercy of God! We are after all, God’s hands, feet, voice, heart, mind, soul, spirit… the living body of the Cosmic Christ… what the real church is.

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    It is good to bring Daniel Berrigan into this conversation. Seeing him read his poem SOME led me to another YouTube video in which he speaks of being in Vietnam with Howard Zinn and being horrified by the effects of US napalm on the ordinary people of Vietnam. I happen to be rereading Zinn’s powerful book A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES in which he mentions being with Berrigan in Vietnam. Zinn’s book exposes the lies of American political and corporate elites functioning in lockstep with the US military industrial complex to destabilize other struggling democracies. I don’t know if Zinn followed a contemplative practice but he certainly would have understood Jesus’ strong critique of the religious and political power brokers of his time. Jesus was executed after his overturning of the money tables in the Temple.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Thank you for your comment. One correction however. When you write that Howard Zinn “would have understood Jesus’ strong critique of the religious and political power brokers of his time”–in my study of the four gospels I never see Jesus criticizing the “political power brokers of his time. John the Baptist criticized Herod, and lost his head for it, but that was a religious critique, and Jesus stood up to the Scribes and Pharisees and didn’t have anything good to say about Herod, but he never criticized the Roman governor of Israel or Caesar…

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      This book sits on a table in front of my eyes and I see it and notice it every day. But I’ve grown cowardly in my old age and when I see it, tears often spring up—I can’t bear to re-read it.
      Bless you and whatever results your understanding of injustice brings to the world.

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    Yes I admire Jesus for His speaking out about injustice. And I love ? him for that. He is my inspiration to take action for peace and justice.

    I am so grateful for these daily meditations. They really are a gift.
    One more thing, after Tyre Nichols was murdered, I said, more than once, that this was a crucifixion. Killed by the hand of the state. Just like Jesus, I think I will start calling these things crucifixions.

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      Thank- you for this meditation, Matthew! It was a breath of fresh air. Speaking out against cruelty and injustice is imperative. Everytime I hear someone say we are not to judge or criticise when we see injustice or cruelty, I get the distinct impression they are making an excuse to not act or show compassion to people, animals and the earth, but want to feel justified in their silence. I always wonder if they would do nothing to stop a bully from abusing a person, or an animal or the earth because they don’t want to “judge” and so let the cruelty go on while feeling all holy. I say call it what it is and stop it, if that makes me a judger, so be it.

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    Yes, speaking Truth to any injustice or Lie is our responsibility as human beings, the mystic and the prophet within us, and sometimes also taking personal and social action as this Spirit of Love and Truth may lead us…

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    One small comment to make on the huge issues which are challenging our established cultures and the very heart of democracy….. my comment is from remembering the story of the ‘Tower of Babel’ (Genesis ch.11 v 1-9)
    This is a story where men, through their arrogance and pride, wanted to build a Tower so high that it would reach to heaven, where they could aspire to being equal to God! It did not succeed.
    The similarity I draw on is linked to the man-made empire of Fox News and its alarming power to inform and
    influence people where one man, Rupert Murdoch, is setting himself up to be the king of the media.
    ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ by P. D. Ouspensky he calls a man without conscience and without a sincerity towards himself a ‘lying animal’. Only human beings can lie: the naturalness of animals means they can’t & don’t.
    A prayer of hope is that the positive side of the Internet and all it’s unveiling will ‘Out-fox’ the Fox!

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    Thanks Matthew for delineating between compassion/mercy and justice.
    Sometimes we rush to forgive the perepetrators of injustice before also
    considering the possibility of “calling them out” for their bad behavior. A
    marginalized or persecuted people, as well as those who have suffered
    abuse, need the rest of us to come to their aid when the odds are stacked
    against them. I love the psalm: “Justice and Mercy shall kiss.” We need to
    practice both qualities, at the same time.

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    According to the theologian Marcus Borg in his book, “Convictions,” Jesus was executed in the specific way reserved for those who defied imperial authority, nailed rather than tied up to a cross or sent into slavery. Jesus also called for a “kingdom of God on earth” and inaugurated his mission by saying ” the kingdom of God has come near” and later praying, “your kingdom come, on earth”, vs. Rome, which also called itself a kingdom. And he created deliberately provocative public acts, e.g., entering Jerusalem on a donkey, “echoing a text from the prophet Zechariah that spoke of a king of peace who would banish war and speak peace to nations.” Then, just one day later, he turned the tables over in the temple, accusing them of turning the temple into a “den of robbers”, “an expression from the prophet Jeremiah (7.11) that referred to the temple’s role in his day as a center of exploitation and injustice,…For the authorities, these two public acts were the tipping point. Jesus was proclaiming a kingdom, …that challenged and countered their kingdom of exploitation and violence. And he had a following”. (pp. 138-143).

    Everyone must decide for themselves what (all) Jesus’s messages were. There were always layers of meanings built into the Gospels, and even more have been added in the two thousand years since they were written.

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    Thank you, Matthew, for putting your body on the line, as all prophets do, and then suffering the consequences. The poem, “Some”, was dedicated to the Plowshares 8, who have consistently put their bodies on the line to protest nuclear policies since the Berrigans founded the group decades ago. Elizabeth McCallister, Daniel’s widow, was incarcerated along with Dorothy Day’s granddaughter for a protest a few years ago against a nuclear sub group in Georgia. The poem reminds me of the parable about the seeds. It takes a great faith to soldier on in the face of the powers and principalities arrayed against truth and justice. Jesus clearly spoke out against them. I agree with Melinda’s point that he was crucified because he threatened Rome’s authority, not just because he was a troublesome Jew. His quote about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s can be interpreted in more than one way, and I have seen it described as an ironic statement because the truth is that everything is God’s and it is possible that his followers and later readers would understand that. Liberation theology has been rejected because of the refusal by the religious powers that be to see Jesus also a rebel. I grew up learning that he was a subversive because all of his teaching turned everything upside down–e.g., the last shall be the first. We all have different gifts, but it seems to me that we all are called to act in some way against injustice and to speak the truth.

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    Thank you Matthew for clarifying our right to speak truth to power. I am a woman 82 years old. I’ve seen many tv coverages of war and demonstrations. While I am not a person who participated in actual demonstrations, I did disagree with my father, a WW 11 vet abt Vietnam. I felt like I spoke truth to power. Blessings. Much love. I am willing to speak truth again.

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    Throughout history there have been only a handful of philosophers, mystics, messiah-figures, and assorted misfits who have revered Truth. It was my choice to champion Truth through the courtroom—I thought in my youth that juries would be ordinary reasonable people with some fundamental grasp of logic and therefore be capable of understanding jury questions and the import of evidence and the meaning of “preponderance.”
    I was often proved wrong.
    It’s pointless to assign blame for this failure of society to produce sensible citizens with the ability to recognize OR have the desire to embrace Truth–schools? religion? the evangelical/republican party en masse? zombie television?
    Murdoch is, indeed, a satanic devotee of Lies and Deceit.
    But where is the responsibility of the People—who sit before his broadcasts, brainless, their only sign of life produced by the primitive reptilian brainstem’s autonomous and famous “three ‘Fs'” to give evidence that they live at all.
    Bless me, Father. I have no patience.

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    The Truth that Jesus claims to be, is the Life all living things experience and follow by our predestined evolution, by living. “Forgive them for they know not what they do”. The Sin of the world of death and destruction beginning with the Big Bang, with the unjust act of creating only one blue planet, is the systemic global injustice, we all participate in, by continually killing Life. That is why all living things, must die. Redemption is in forgiving us. Life is invisible and silent, as the Spirit. When Jesus speaks He talks to our Father, as well, as to us. “This day you will be with me in Paradise”. Where everyone is forgiven, on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

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    I think there’s something in between withdrawing into a cacoon and “calling people bad names.” I’m a student of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) which teaches a method of communication that enables people to speak their truth in such a way that contributes to connection and increases effectiveness. Name-calling is seen as creating disconnection and therefore ineffectiveness. NVC doesn’t see anger as an undesirable quality needing to be purged. It doesn’t teach us to “ignore, squash or swallow anger, but rather to express the core of our anger fully and wholeheartedly.”

    I’m an avid reader of Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditations. I love his outside-the-box creative thinking, and the connections he makes between ancient sacred texts and current events, science and spirituality, mysticism and activism, thinking and feeling and imagining, spirituality and earth justice, art, music, literature and more. Of course, this first time I write in, it’s over a nuanced difference of thought. With all respect, I’d like to ask Matthew Fox, are you familiar with Nonviolent Communication?

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