Reading: John 5
31 ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favour, and I know that his testimony about me is true.
33 ‘You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
36 ‘I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Augustine grew up in a highly literate culture. Words, both spoken and written, were king. Schools and universities taught public speaking, one of the most important areas of education until the Middle Ages. Augustine was a diligent student of rhetoric and had a firm grasp on it, which proved very useful first in the courts and then in the schools. He quickly realised that a skilled lawyer may achieve his goal and successfully defend the accused even if the latter is in fact guilty of the crime. Because of this, Augustine reflected in his Confessions:
"For some time, though, you had been teaching me in wondrous, hidden ways, my God (and I believe what you have taught me because it is true; there is no other teacher of truth except you, though teachers aplenty have made a name for themselves in many a place); so I had already learned under your tuition that nothing should be regarded as true because it is eloquently stated, nor false because the words sound clumsy. On the other hand, it is not true for being expressed in uncouth language either, nor false because couched in splendid words.”
The Jews spent a lot of time analysing words of the Old Testament about the coming of a Messiah. They awaited him fervently and described him in many ways, but they focused more on the form than the content. Jesus tells them: "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40).
Bombarded every day by a constant flow of information from radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet, we may easily become lost and lured astray by sophisticated language—which not only aims at shocking audiences, drawing their attention, and inciting interest, but often hides spiritual voids, groundless accusations, promotion of improper conduct, and ridicule of the church and belief in God.
Lord God, give us the gift of clarity in sifting through the constant flow of information, so that we may separate the useful from the chaff, that which helps us achieve salvation from that which leads us astray. Amen.