One of the things that a lot of people are talking about is “Fake News”. “Fake News” is the publication of hoaxes, propaganda, disinformation which people deliberately know is not true but is published and released to create a situation for their own advantage. There are websites, articles of information that are published about people that are clearly not true but are done to discredit them. There are things that are entered into the public domain giving facts that have absolutely no basis in truth and are done with the clear intention of changing public opinion, the public’s views, again to the advantage of the one who is spreading the lies.
India renewed its currency recently and many websites reported the new notes were installed with spying technology to detect the proximity of false notes. Not true.
Pope Francis is said to have come out in support for Donald Trump during the presidential election. Not true.
Prince Andrew it is claimed is at odds with Prince Charles over the status of his daughters. Not true, he claims, made up.
The president of Brazil was recently impeached. It has been proved that 60% of the websites disseminated false information.
One of the concerns is that countries in conflict are using this method to influence and destabilise the situation in other countries for their advantage. One of the concerns also is that rich groups of people who have the resources and capabilities are doing it for their own purpose too, to control, de-rail and influence situations to their advantage.
It’s the power of a lie to do harm, all of us have known what that can do. But it is a lie that has found a new way to get out there. 2 days ago Pope Francis called it a new lie, or rather the lie reborn in a new way.
Strangely “Fake News” appears in the Gospel people are carrying stories to John the Baptist in his prison cell about what Jesus is saying or doing. What is it that people are whispering in his ear? We are not sure exactly what it is but it is enough to unsettle John the Baptist to ask a question through the messengers with which implies a doubt: are you the one that we are to expect or are we to await another?
The answer, Jesus says, that they are to give him is what they see. If there are false stories and false reports look around and see what is happening. The signs that would be associated with the messiah are here – the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and good news comes to the poor and the broken.
What was the “Fake News” that came to John the Baptist. That Jesus was a charlatan, that he was deceiving people, upsetting and unsettling people? Who knows!
To the charge that he was a charlatan the answer was clearly false to this messengers, because they could see what he was doing with their own eyes. To the charge he might be deceiving people, this couldn’t be true. But to the charge that he was unsettling many people this was clearly true.
Jesus view challenged the contemporary view of illness and sickness which thought of it God’s curse for sins of the past by yourself or your family. Jesus view, before the arrival of medicine, is that God wishes these things cured, his view is not that he should curse them but that he should cure them, cure all of them, every illness and every ailment, every form of brokenness that comes to him.
But there is an even more powerful element in Jesus’ curing because he makes clear illness comes often as a result of imbalances of wealth, by oppression, by neglect of people, by people being ostracised and isolated. Jesus fights against this – he touches the man who is sick, he goes into the house of the sick person where others stay out, he mixes with the sick when others are afraid that they would become unclean.
To the charge that Jesus is unsettling people’s mind with his radical thoughts and actions this charge is true. And Jesus sends the messengers back to tell John the Baptist this. And there is very suggestion the Baptist was not displeased because he had done the same.
What was the fake news - that he was a conjurer and a trickster? Was it that he was steaming up the people for his own purpose, to lead a rebellion? Was it even that he was doing it for money or personal glory? Was he dining and getting drunk every night and associating with people of ill repute?
It’s clear that all through his ministry he is the target of “Fake News”.
Another twist in the story is Jesus conviction about John the Baptist as a person who was not so easily deceived. This is a person who is not a reed swaying in the wind, but a mighty prophet and someone who Jesus says “none born of woman greater than John the Baptist”. Its as if he is saying that he will know and see through the lies and “fake news”, no one will pull the wool over his eyes.
Ever since the world began there have been purveyors of “Fake News”. Books and novels and the greatest of stories have been written based on an individual who tells a pack of lies to get their own way. Since the beginning of time there have been people who will go to any lengths to tell a lie that destroys another’s character or creates a situation. Coronation Street, Dallas, River City would not exist without it. Those very TV programme’s that you hang on and are taken in.
In the creation story in Genesis the devil comes out with “fake news” that God doesn’t want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge because then they will be like God knowing good and evil.
But history also tells us that there are people of character and wisdom who see through the lies and the “fake news”. There are people who are not taken in, they are not deceived. John the Baptist will not be deceived.
Its frightening that people can tell deliberately such terrible lies. But do not be afraid there will always be others around to disentangle the webs of deceit that they spin. For every lie there is truth. For every bad thing there is good that will match it.