Fake news is not a new thing.
Consider this: Abraham Lincoln was a woman!
That John Wilkes Booth sure took things to extremes.
Or what about Tupac?
Quite why that bad boy would settle for NZ when Sydney is just across the water is beyond me.
But it proves fake news is not a new thing. Mind you, there’s a world of difference between those crazy stories and the fake news stories we want to be true. That Obama was born in Africa. That Trump eats babies. That Hillary operated a sex shop from a pizza store.
Fake news has taken off in our social media age because not only do we no longer trust the mainstream media, we desire the biases we hold to be true, so we bend ourselves towards the news that fits our view of the world.
Fake news was right there at the start of the Christian story. As Matthew reports that first Easter the Jewish religious leaders are mightily concerned about fake news.
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“That deceiver.” Can’t even mention his name. And don’t let this thing go viral for goodness sake Pilate! Fake news tends to get out of hand. We don’t want “the people” to be deceived.
Notice it’s not just “people”, but “THE people”. The people of God, Israel. This is all about power. All about the Jewish leaders holding on to their temple, their teaching, their total control (insofar as Rome would allow it).
Fake news is all about power and grabbing at it. Tearing the other down in order to achieve it. This Jesus thing must be stopped at all costs. So they secure the news source. The tomb is sealed and guarded. No room for fake news.
And then good news happens:
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
Something apocalyptic that breaks through the news spin cycle.
And oh, the irony. The guards, burly and sullen and so sure of themselves, become “like dead men”!
The great role reversal. The dead are alive and those who are alive become like the dead.
The battle to determine fake from truth is the battle for power. The battle for where history is headed. The battle for who is on the wrong side of both.
The simple beauty of this story is what happens next. Jesus appears to the two women. To the women! If you’re going to build a fake news base in that culture, then Jesus can’t appear to second class citizens whose testimony is not accepted in court. The women are sent off with good news!
If you’re going to build a power base then Jesus has to appear in downtown Jerusalem, not backwater Galilee. If you’re going to show yourself on the right side of history show yourself to the governor, the king, the leaders, not the wayward, no-name disciples.
That’s the way fake news would do it.
And today? Fake news would report that Jesus appeared to the nation’s chief scientist, then to Richard Dawkins, and lastly to Ryan Gosling.
Matthew reports it the way he does, because that’s what happened! It was true news, good news!
And the religious leaders? The ones charged with ensuring the nations obey the commands of Moses? They break the ninth command without breaking a sweat:
Some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
All too happy to spread a viral piece of fake news if it suits their agenda.
Which is all a way of saying that even if you don’t think this report of Matthew is true news, it doesn’t negate the need for you to examine why you believe it is fake, why you want it to be fake.
This news doesn’t negate the need for you to ask yourself why you might wish this to be fake news. Why you might wish for the fake news of the Jewish leaders to be true instead. What power is at stake for you? What view of history would be swept away if this is true news?