Exposing the Emperor
I've been thinking about the folk tale, The Emperor's New Clothes. In it, a vain ruler is tricked by a crafty peddler into thinking he's wearing an outfit of the highest quality, that only the truly wise can see. The ruler doesn't see the invisible clothes, but not wanting to look foolish, he pretends that he can. His aides, who also want to save face, follow along in the delusion, praising the Emperor for his beautiful new duds. In the story, the vain Emperor goes so far as to parade down the main street, thinking he's showing off his wealth and wisdom, all the while putting his idiocy on display.
Most of us are probably more like the emperor's staff, than the emperor himself. Do I prefer to passively believe what someone in authority says, never questioning it? Do I embrace wildly improbable explanations when my senses and gut tell me it's all a charade? How many times have I listened to bizarre extrapolations of Scripture and decided to look the other way? If vanity and pride are not my Achilles' heel, maybe, like the emperor's entourage, I'm more susceptible to fawning and faking, rather than standing up for truth.
In the story, there was a boy who didn't pretend to see the clothes, like all the grownups did around him. The crowd mumbled under their breath, but applauded the emperor to his face. The boy called his bluff and broke the silence. Is my allegiance to certain people or religious structures too strong for me to risk upsetting them? Have I been lulled into blindly following a deceived leader? How can I, like the boy, stay clearheaded, both seeing and speaking the truth?
Jeremiah 23:16 says, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord."
Sometimes we want so badly to hear some good news. We want to be right for once. We want our viewpoint and convictions to be validated and to seem wise. This was the case with Israel during the time of Jeremiah. There were scores of false prophets appeasing the Israelites and telling them what they wanted to hear, but Jeremiah had a different message for them. His message was bad news, but it was true. God was calling His people to account for their sins. He was leading them into trouble because of their wayward hearts. Nobody wanted to hear that message; instead they clung to prophesies of false hope.
When the crafty peddler comes around, trying to seduce us with visions of wisdom and being on the "inside track," will we weigh his words? Will we test our own motives for believing him? Will we rely on the counsel of the Spirit, who is only committed to truth, not delusion? Will we welcome in the deceiver, making him an honored guest, while he steals from us and makes us a laughingstock? Or will we throw him out and take a good, honest look in the mirror?