FOLKS LIKE THE TRUTH THAT HITS THEIR NEIGHBOR. I grew up hearing Aesop’s “Honesty is the best policy,” so I found this American proverb, which shows honesty as sometimes less than a virtue, an interesting surprise.
Jesus, who certainly was a truth teller, was selective in the times he practiced it. One good example of that is when the “mother of the sons of Zebedee” came before him kneeling and asking, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (NRSV Matt. 20:21). Now the obvious truth here is that she was being presumptuous. Certainly the other disciples appeared to be upset by such brazen ambition. But Jesus didn’t say to her, “Woman, you presume too much. Your sons will never be ready for such an elevation.”
More gently he said to her, “You do not know what you are asking.”
But the two sons pressed on saying, “We are able.” This response might again have been a time for truth telling, but Jesus continued to be merciful, replying that such a privilege “is not mine to grant” (23). Much later, this woman was loyally standing at the cross with Mary Magdalene. It is hard to imagine this mother being there if Jesus had handled the earlier conversation about her sons with less love and more honesty.
All virtues have the potential to be vices. The self-righteousness that hides in the truth-telling of honesty can be tragically hurtful to those around us. It may even be a disguise for judgment and anger and revenge. That’s why a time of truth telling must be a time of yielding, when the Lord leads the way. Only then will we feel assured that our motives truly spring from love. (Turning Aside to See, 2011)