November 23, 2003
There is an old Chinese tale about an emperor who wished to groom a young child to be his successor. Therefore he devised a test. He invited all of the children of the kingdom to the palace and to each of them he gave a clay pot filled with dirt and a single seed. He said to the children, “This seed will determine your future. You are to take it home and plant it, water it, and care for it. In one year bring your pot back to show me the fruits of your labor.” Now among the children who came that day was a young boy by the name of Ling. He took his pot home and planted the seed. He carefully watered it and placed it where it could receive the sun. But nothing happened. Even after months of care, his pot remained barren. So when the time came to return to the palace, Ling did not want to go. But his mother said, “Ling, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You did exactly what you were told. Go and show the emperor your pot.” So Ling went.
When he came to the palace he was amazed at the beautiful flowers and plants that filled the pots of all the other children. When the emperor came in he surveyed the entire scene and his eye landed on Ling’s barren pot. “What is your name young man?” the emperor said. “Ling, sir.” Then the emperor bowed to Ling. He addressed the other children, “A year ago I gave to each one of you a pot and a seed which had been boiled so there was no way it would ever grow. Yet, when I come here today, I see pots filled with all the plants of my kingdom. Master Ling alone among all of you was the only one who had the integrity and the honesty to bring back the barren pot, even though by doing so he risked ridicule and rejection. Living with honesty and truth is difficult; but it is also a sign of greatness. Therefore, let us now all bow to Master Ling, the next emperor of our kingdom.”
Living in the truth is not easy. It requires courage to face what is real in our lives and to respond to that reality wisely. More importantly living in the truth is not primarily about refusing to lie to others. It is chiefly about refusing to lie to ourselves. Those who live in the truth refuse to live a lie. Because living a lie can not only hurt us; but can, in time, destroy us. All of us are aware how strong emotions can upset and disturb us, so sometimes we choose to live the lie of serenity, even as deep forces churn within us. Upright persons, however, face the emotions that are present in their lives and admit: I am angry, I am fearful, I am unhappy. The honesty in facing those emotions can lead us to discover what is causing such strong feelings and perhaps resolve them. But living in silence, keeping our emotions quiet is living a lie. It is not living in the truth.
All of us want to live in peaceful and happy families with good relations with every one. So sometimes we choose to ignore the real problems that are present in our families and in our relationships. If we experience abuse, whether it be verbal or physical, if there is someone who is manipulating us with shame or fear, if there are resentments in our relationships that push us apart, we can choose to ignore those problems. We provide excuses, saying “That’s just the way things are. There is nothing wrong. There is nothing that I need to face.” But in making that choice, we are letting those problems in our life strangle us. We are not living in the truth.
All of us want to be independent, want to be in control of our lives. So sometimes we choose to live a lie, ignoring that there are forces controlling us. We can be addicted to food, or alcohol, or drugs, or pornography, and all the time say to ourselves, “I can stop whenever I choose. I am still in control.” But we are not in control. We cannot stop, because we are living a lie. We are not living in the truth.
Perhaps the reason that it is so tempting to live a lie is because we cannot really imagine facing the truth. Perhaps we surround ourselves with so many false illusions, because we cannot see how we could ever have the courage to face the reality that is present in our lives. If that’s the case, then today’s feast is good news for us. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. This feast tells us that the authority of Christ is supreme, that the power of Christ is real and active in our midst. The Church consciously chooses to place this feast at the end of the liturgical year to make the point that if our faith means anything, it means that whatever forces control us, whatever problems attack us, whatever truth we have to face, Christ’s power is greater. If we turn to Christ as our King, we can find the courage to face the truth and then move on to greater life.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Pilate, “All those who belong to the truth, hear my voice.” Today we are called to belong to the truth, to claim what is real in our lives and to follow the teaching of Christ. If your pot is barren, admit it. If there are problems in your family, own them. If there are addictions that control you, admit that you are helpless before them. That step into the truth will lead to other steps that will lead to life. But the first step is to claim what is real and to live in what is true. Christ is our King.Christ is our Truth. Today, let us claim his kingship. Today let us belong to the Truth and hear his voice.