“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
All of us grow up hearing stories about what happens to people who don’t tell the truth. Whether it’s Pinocchio, the Boy who cried ‘wolf,’ or any other fictional character, one of the qualities our parents try very hard to impart on us is the need to tell the truth, to become men and women of honesty and integrity. While many people lie to get ahead, we still look down on those who deliberately conceal the truth from others. In that spirit, it seems like God is telling us to make sure we tell the truth (and don’t lie) in this commandment.
But why is telling the truth such a big deal? And why does it deserve a commandment?
“The eighth commandment teaches us not to lie. Lying means consciously and intentionally speaking or acting against the truth.” -YouCat 452
On the one hand it may seem a little strange to put a commandment on lying right after directives on adultery and murder. The last two seem so much more serious, while this is just …lying. At least that’s how some people would see it. On the other hand, perhaps it is worth considering the way in which God sees the truth. Jesus refers to himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and later gave us an even clearer message about how much ‘truth’ matters:
“Every Christian must give testimony to the truth and thereby follow after Christ, who before Pilate said ‘For this I was born, and of this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.’ (John 18:37).” -YouCat 454
To be a Christian is to live and to love as a witness of the truth. We are first of all convinced of the truth that God made us and that He loves us, and we are further convinced He is willing to do anything to ensure our ability to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. That is the truth we remember at Easter, and which we recall each time we celebrate the Eucharist. The first challenge of offering a true witness is whether or not the way in which we live our lives reflects that truth. Throughout the history of the Church, this witness has come at a price – for some popularity, for others material gain, and for many (those we call martyrs), they have clung to this truth enough to be willing to die for it. A martyr’s crown brings with it the reward of Heaven, well worth the cost of bearing witness to the truth.
For us, as ordinary Christians, our task of witnessing to the truth will likely not involve martyrdom. But the cost is still significant, as we are meant to bear witness by our whole lives. This includes doing what Christians have done for two millenia, celebrating Mass together on Sunday, in addition to living as though we are Christ’s every other day of the week. This should be true at home, work, and when we are out with friends. It also means that the words we speak ought to be trustworthy – that we should be sure that our “‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and (our) ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
May this be the case for us in the big things – matters of faith and morals – as much as it should be true in all the little things we say to others.