The Eighth Commandment – You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbour: Commentary by Sr. Lucia of Fatima

by admin on September 5, 2011

«You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour** (Deut. 5, 20)”

With this commandment, God forbids all kinds of calumny and lies, which damage our neighbour. The Lord speaks thus: «You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit. (…)You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the rights (Ex 23, 1-8).

This commandment of God also forbids all unjust criticism, backbit­ing and slander of our neighbour: that great defect of putting the worst interpretation on our neighbour’s actions, attributing to them an evil in­tention, which they never had. Condemning this conduct, St. James says: «Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbour?* (Jm 4, 11-12).

All backbiting, censure, and unjust and detracting criticism are con­trary to this commandment because they are founded on falsehood and calumny. In the Book of Proverbs, it is written: «A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who utters lies will perish* (Prov 19, 9).

If we apply this to our own case, we understand the meaning of this commandment very well, since we would like to see it observed with re­gard to ourselves. Why, then, do we not understand it in the same way in our neighbour’s case? Surely it is because we live carelessly or else in igno­rance of the truth?

In St. John’s Gospel, there is a passage, which has always impressed me greatly, the one which refers to Jesus’ trial before Pilate. At a given moment, the accusation is made that Jesus had wanted to be king, the true sense of which the Lord sought to make clear. «Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice. “Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, “I find no crime in him.* (Jn 18, 37-38).

This Gospel text shows us what life in the world is like. Pilate was a man who occupied a very high place in the society of his day, wielding great power, including that of judge of the Supreme Court, and, yet, he does not know what truth is! Neither did he want to know, because he did not wait for Jesus’ answer. He was not interested in learning; he simply went out and spoke to the Jews. So many people in the world live like this: they are not interested in the truth, and yet we will never arrive in Heaven unless we follow the way of truth.

Thus, Pilate, having listened to calumny, condemned an innocent man to death. And he was aware of this, since he himself admitted that the victim was innocent; moreover, to stifle the voice of his conscience, he staged the hypocritical ceremony of washing his hands, declaring before all the people that he himself was innocent of the blood of that just Man. «Pilate (…) took water and washed his hands before the crowd saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood”* (Mt 27, 24).” «Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.* (Jnl9, 16).

If it were possible to unroll the whole web of human history, how many examples would we not find of people condemned to death or to punishments just as cruel as death, victims of calumny, of lies, of unjust judgements, of hatred, envy and vengeance? And, yet, the Law of God has been given to us and is still valid, repeating always: ” You shall not kill. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not repeat a false report. Do not join the wicked in putting your hand, as an unjust witness, upon anyone. You shall keep away from anything dishonest”.

Even if people do not want to heed this voice of God, its echo must vibrate in the human conscience for as long as the race exists and after­wards, in eternity, in the despair of those who, because they did not follow it, are lost forever.

To transgress this commandment is a very grave matter: for, in doing so, we offend God in the person of our neighbour. It is a sin against the precepts of the justice and charity with which Jesus Christ bids us treat our neighbour: «This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you* (Jn 15, 12) and the Lord loved us to the point of giving his life for us. In another place, He recommends the same thing, saying: «So what­ever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.* (Mt 7, 12).

Ave Maria!

Click Here to see the List of The Ten Commandments with 122 Questions to Examine Your Conscience with.

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