(A reflection on Chapter 3, Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman)

As we reflect deeply on the dynamics of power, oppression, and the ways of the disinherited throughout human history, we are struck by the profound spiritual truths illuminated. The path of deception, so frequently taken by the weak against the strong as a defensive mechanism for survival, reveals itself as a road lined with moral perils. Though deception may seem a prudent option when one’s very existence is threatened, we must confront the terrible cost it extracts upon the soul.

For if we accept deception as our primary way of being, do we not risk losing our very grasp on truth itself? As the text reminds us, to “call a lie the truth” is to tamper dangerously with our core values and facility for moral discernment. The haunting refrain of Shakespeare’s Macbeth echoes – a life of deception turns one into “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” We shudder to think of arriving at such a morally nullified state where life has been drained of higher meaning and purpose.

The second path, that of constantly juggling areas of compromise under the pretense that some forms of deception are simply inevitable, is equally treacherous. While the textual analysis highlights how social forces can indeed bind us in “networks” that constrict our behavior, do we not sell ourselves short by resigning to an attitude of moral defeatism? To accept the inevitability of compromise is to “cheapen life” itself, to view our existence through the severely constricted lens of mere physical survival at any cost.

It is only the third path, that of complete and “devastating sincerity” in the face of oppression, that can enable us to break free from dehumanizing cycles of falsehood. The words from the venerated Mahatma Gandhi here ring crisp: “Speak the truth, without fear and without exception… You are in God’s work, so you need not fear man’s scorn.” What spiritual fortitude is required to embrace such vulnerability, such unguarded openness to truth!

Yet is it not this very stance, this unwavering commitment to authenticity in our relations with both the Divine and the human that Jesus himself demanded? In invoking the climactic scene of the separating of sheep and goats, did he not make transparently clear that ultimate judgment rests on our treatment of the “least of these”? For Jesus, hypocrisy is a “death blow” – there is no separating our sincerity towards the Creator from our sincerity towards our fellow beings.

We cannot help but be struck by the paradoxical power contained in this radical sincerity. For when the oppressed refuse to pay “tribute” through compromising hypocrisy, do they not unmask the oppressors’ positioning as the fragile “accident” that it is? As the text reveals, the dominance of the strong relies utterly on the complicity of the weak in granting that power tacit acceptance and acknowledgment. To withhold that is to render “advantage due to birth or position” null – stripping away all pretense, all “ratings” beyond our core shared humanity.

What spiritual courage is required to reach that “supreme moment of human dignity” through the unyielding power of self-dispossession! It is the path of the Cross itself, a willing embrace of profound vulnerability for the sake of the higher calling of truth and love. For the disinherited, it is a CHOOSING of the persecution, oppression, and suffering so as to transcend the dehumanizing logic of oppression itself.

In this light, the sincerity embodied by Jesus emerges as no abstract dogma, but as the most potent force of human liberation. It is the supreme “no” to every attempt by unjust powers to distort our moral fabric, divide our integrity, and deny our sacred worth. It is the great “yes” that affirms our belonging to the Spirit of Truth that defies every falsehood and renders us gloriously present to the perpetual sunrise of dignity.

So may we turn unflinchingly towards that Light which casts no shadow of deception! May we draw courage from the Great Exemplar and the cloud of witnesses who have chosen this hard path of sincerity as the only way to break the insidious chains that keep humanity’s family divided against itself. In our radical truthfulness, may we become contemporary testimony that every human being is sacred, fearfully and wonderfully made – no more and no less than the Divine’s own fragile, luminous vessel of unquenchable dignity. Only in such surrender to the demands of perfect integrity can we finally unmask all idolatrous privileges and arrive at that holy ground of human equality where all masks, all ratings slip away. There alone can true justice and beloved community take root and flourish across this world so haunted by oppression’s legacy. So may our lives become the Impact of that eternal “yes” that Jesus’ presence ushered – the dawn of that reality where, at last, we are all simply human beings unveiled before the mercies of God and one another.


Deception is a technique historically used by the weak to protect themselves against the strong. The disinherited and oppressed groups face three alternatives in dealing with this: First, they can fully accept deception, though this leads to a loss of moral distinctions. Second, they can attempt to juggle areas of compromise, seeing some deception as inevitable for survival, but this cheapens life. The third and most powerful alternative is to adopt complete, unwavering sincerity and truthfulness no matter the cost, as advocated by Jesus. The first two alternatives involving deception are ultimately destructive to ethics and human dignity. However, the third path of sincerity strips away the oppressor’s sense of power and advantage. For Jesus, sincerity towards God and humans is one and the same – hypocrisy is a “death blow.” True equality and human dignity can only be achieved when the disinherited overcome dehumanization through this unwavering genuineness taught by Jesus. Absolute truthfulness is presented as the most ethically powerful stance against oppression.

Key Points

1. Deception is a technique used by the weak to protect themselves against the strong throughout history.

2. Various examples of deception in nature, children, students, women, and oppressed groups are provided to illustrate this defensive technique.

3. There are three alternatives for the disinherited (weak/oppressed) in dealing with deception:
a) Accept there is no sensible choice but deception, which can lead to a loss of moral distinctions.
b) Juggle areas of compromise, seeing some deception as inevitable for survival, though this cheapens life.
c) Adopt complete, unwavering sincerity and truthfulness, no matter the cost, as advocated by Jesus.

4. The first two alternatives involving deception are seen as ultimately destructive to one’s ethics and human dignity.

5. The third alternative of sincerity, as taught by Jesus, is presented as the most ethically powerful stance. Absolute truthfulness strips away the oppressor’s sense of power and advantage.

6. For Jesus, sincerity towards God and towards other humans are one and the same – hypocrisy is a “death blow.” True human dignity comes from this unwavering sincerity.

7. Only through this third path of genuine sincerity can the disinherited overcome dehumanization and achieve true human dignity and equality.