Attack Ads

Friday, August 31, 2012 — Week of Proper 16

Aidan and Cuthbert, Bishops of Lindisfarne, 651, 684

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)

Job 9:1-15, 32-35

Acts 10:34-48

John 7:37-52

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

We’re in political year. One of the tactics we will see is the strategy of fear. Opponents will focus on whatever fear they can manipulate in the public mind and try to make that fear the lens through which we see the other candidate. They know that voters tend to “vote against” more than to “vote for.” We’ve seen for many years the proliferation of attack ads.

Since attack ads often use half-truths, exaggerations and inaccuracies, many of us turn to web sites like, a nonpartisan, nonprofit service that seeks to reduce deception and confusion by monitoring the factual accuracy of political speech.

In John 7, Jesus is beginning to create some political “buzz” at the Jerusalem Festival of Booths. During the dramatic last day of the festival, the traditional reading for that day tells the story of God’s giving Israel water from the rock during the sojourn in the wilderness. What an image of hope for a dry and thirsty people.

Jesus takes that image of hope and invites the thirsty to come to him and to receive the life-giving Spirit which will burst from within them like a hidden spring in their souls. The image hits a responsive chord. People speculate: Is he a prophet? Is he the Messiah?

Time for the attack ad. Distract them from his message. Distract them from their hope. Focus on something tangential and make it central. “He’s from Galilee. Look in your Bibles. It doesn’t say the Messiah comes from Galilee. He’s a fraud.”

But his message and his way of speaking has a power. They don’t arrest him. The authorities are furious. And, you sense that they are a bit afraid of the crowd. They are used to manipulating the crowd with fear and intimidation. They wouldn’t want someone outside their control to cause the crowd to gain its own voice. “This crowd, which does not know the law,” say the authorities, “they are accursed.” It is an ironic statement. It is the authorities who do not know the embodiment of the law in Jesus who is love personified, who has summarized the law to be love of God, neighbor and self.

It is Nicodemus, one of the authorities, who appeals to “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”

He gets a rude reply. The authorities stick to their talking points. “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” They smear Jesus again with the Galilee button.

There is a tinge of racism in that smear. Galilee is an outsider province. It is a portion of Israel that is influenced by trade and interchange with foreigners. Jerusalem is suspicious of Galileans. During the narrative about Jesus’ arrest, Peter is threatened when someone recognizes his Galilean accent. “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” The threat provides Peter with his third temptation to betray Jesus before the cock crows. Fear is all around.

Fear is a terrible motivator. Maybe that is why the phrase “fear not / do not be afraid / be not afraid” occurs 365 times in the scripture, I’m told. One for every day of the week.

Jesus sought to motivate with a loving compassion that inspired hope grounded in a trust of God. Out of his trust in God he brought healing, reconciliation, and a community committed to the “well-being of the least of these.” His appeal was to our highest nature: Perfect love, which casts out fear.

The battle between fear and love is both an external and an internal struggle.

I’m reminded of the old Cherokee tale. A Cherokee elder is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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