The gospel narrative of the cleansing of the temple is a disconcerting scene (John 2:1322). It presents us with the portrait of an angry
Savior. The meek Lamb of God who said, "Take my
yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and
humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29), has fashioned a
homemade whip and begun tearing through the temple,
overturning stalls and showcases, thrashing the merchants
and roaring, "Get out of here! This isn't Wal-Mart. You will not turn sacred space into a shopping
excursion! You liars! To visit the temple is a sign of
reverence for my Father. Get out of here!"
What is even more disconcerting is Jesus's relentless
passion for the truth. In our society, where money,
power, and pleasure are the name of the game, the body
of truth is bleeding from a thousand wounds. Many of
us have been lying to ourselves for so long that our comforting
illusions and rationalizations have assumed a
patina of truth; we clutch them to our hearts the way a
child clutches a favorite teddy bear. Not convinced?
Consider the man on his third luncheon martini quoting
the Apostle Paul about a little wine being good for the
stomach; or the "liberated" Christian's vehement
defense of the nudity in The Last Tango in Paris, the violence
in Pulp Fiction, or the oral sex scene in My Private
Idaho, because they are "integral to the plot and tastefully
done"; or the upstanding church deacon who overlooks
cheating and manipulation in his business dealings
because "it's the only way to be competitive"; or whole
churches in which the delirium of guiltlessness is reality,
the mastery of biblical exegesis is holiness, the size of
the congregation is proof of its authenticity, and on and
on. There is no limit to the defenses we contrive against
the inbreak of truth into our lives.
The painful question we face in the church today is
whether the love of God can be purchased so cheaply.
The first step in the pursuit of truth is not the moral resolution
to avoid the habit of petty lyinghowever
unattractive a character disfigurement that may be. It is
not the decision to stop deceiving others. It is the decision to stop deceiving ourselves. Unless we have the
same relentless passion for the truth that Jesus exhibited
in the temple, we are undermining our faith, betraying
the Lord, and deceiving ourselves. Self-deception is the
enemy of wholeness because it prevents us from seeing
ourselves as we really are. It covers up our lack of
growth in the Spirit of the truthful One and keeps us
from coming to terms with our real personalities.
Many years ago I witnessed the power of selfdeception
dramatically reenacted in the alcoholic rehabilitation
center of a small American town. The scene
(which is excerpted from my earlier work The Ragamuffin
Gospel ): A large, split-level living room set on
the brow of a hill overlooking an artificial lake.
Twenty-five men, all chemically dependent on alcohol
or drugs, have gathered. Croesus O'Connor, a recovering
alcoholic, is the head honchoa trained counselor,
skilled therapist, and senior member of the staff.
He summons Max, a small, diminutive man, to sit alone
in the center of the U-shaped group. Max is a nominal
Christian, married with five children, owner and president
of his own company, wealthy and affable, gifted
with a remarkable poise. O'Connor begins the interrogation:
"How long you been drinking like a pig, Max?"
Max winces. "That's not quite fair."
"We'll see. Let's get into your drinking history. How
much per day?"
"Well, I have two Marys with the men before lunch
and two Martins when the office closes at five. Then. . . ."
"What in God's name are Marys and Martins?"
"Bloody Marysvodka, tomato juice, a dash of
Worcestershireand Martinisextra dry, straight up,
ice cold, with an olive and lemon twist."
"Thank you, Mary Martin. Go on."
"The wife likes a drink before dinner. Got her
hooked on Martins years back." Max smiles. "You
understand that, right, guys?" No one responds. "We
have two then and two before bed."
"Eight drinks a day, Max?" Croesus inquires.
"That's right. Not a drop more, not a drop less."
"You're a liar!"
Max is not ruffled. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that.
Been in business twenty-eight years. People know my
word is my bond. Built my reputation on veracity, not
"Ever hide a bottle in your house?" asks Benjamin, a
Native American from New Mexico.
"Don't be ridiculous. Got a bar in my living room as
big as a horse 's ass. Nothing personal, Mr. O'Connor."
Mary Martin is smiling again.Continues.