We often read in the newspaper or see on TV a story of a con artist deceiving people with some kind of scheme for taking the victim’s money. Examples are plentiful: fly-by-night self-styled roofers, furnace repairmen, offers of ineffective security devices at discount prices, unneeded or inappropriate insurance offered to elderly persons. The list could be extended. What is clear is that people are subject to being deceived.
When we see those stories we may well be tempted to think those people should have known better. From our vantage point of outside observer we see those schemes could not work unless, to some extent, the victim deceives him/her self. This is most evident in the case of get-rich-quick schemes. A common human trait is a tendency to self-deception. We can con ourselves. We find ways and reasons to avoid seeing what we don’t want to see or for not doing what we don’t want to do. A good example is the man who read so much about the danger of smoking he decided to give up … reading.
There is a passage in Matthew’s gospel that provides a good illustration of people deceiving themselves. (Mt. 12: 22-24) It is the story of Jesus restoring sight to a bind man and the reaction of those who witnessed the incident. Jesus performed a work of great power. But some of the crowd responded in a self-deceiving way. The gospel does not detail their thought process. It just tells us the result. We are told some attributed the miracle to Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Perhaps their thinking was something like this. This man does not conform to my idea of what the Messiah should be like. Thus this work of power cannot be a sign that he is the Messiah. The power is there. I see it and I have to explain it somehow. It must come from somewhere else. Thus I don’t have to accept this man and what he teaches
Of course, when we read this account from our vantage point we know those people were sadly mistaken, that they were deceiving themselves. Yet we are subject to the same temptation those people faced. It is a challenge to overcome our tendency to self-deception. It is a challenge to look at ourselves with complete honesty and to change the things that need to be changed. We need to pray for the help, the grace we need to meet that challenge.