It was November 7th, 1874. The New York Herald newspaper had just landed on the steps of homes. A businessman picked up his copy and began to read while sipping his morning tea. As his eyes absorbed the lead article, he promptly spat a mouthful of the steaming liquid across his kitchen table.
The article told of the previous day’s events. Late in the afternoon at the Central Park Zoo, a number of animals had somehow broken free from their enclosures. “A Rhinoceros… then a succession of carnivorous beasts—including a polar bear, a panther, a Numidian lion, several hyenas, and a Bengal tiger.” The animals, free of their bounds, first fought among themselves, until noticing the people still in the zoo. The unsuspecting patrons were then “trampled, mauled, dismembered, and worse.”
After reporting the gory details of the attacks, the article issued a warning: the animals had yet to be captured. Who knows where in the city they might be roaming by now? Widespread panic swept across the city. People attempted to flee, overwhelming the trains and piers. The Police went in search of the animals. Big game hunters sought this singular opportunity to bag a trophy at home.
Other papers wondered how they missed out on such an important story. Had the police been bribed to keep it from them? It would have been the news of the year, maybe decade, and yet they somehow missed it. But there was a good reason they missed it and it’s the same reason you’ve likely never heard of it, because not one word of it was true.
The owner of the Herald, James Gordon Bennett, intentionally fabricated this story in order to sell more papers. Now, he was careful to add the following disclaimer at the end: “of course, the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true.” Yet Bennett knew the average reader would not make it to the end. The story would spread and papers would sell.
This was in the days before Twitter, Facebook, TV News, even the Radio and Telephone had yet to be invented. Most news traveled no faster than one’s footsteps and primarily came through the papers. In fact, the newspapers were the trusted source of information of their age. They should have been carriers of truth.
John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus was full of truth. He never lied—never fabricated a falsehood. We can fully trust him in every area of life. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Proverbs 30:5).
The reminder here is to be a person of truth—in the big and small things. Be a person, like Jesus, full of truth, trustworthy and reliable in all matters.
The story spread and the results were mostly harmless, though the paper continued building on the hoax for days beyond, having fun at the expense of readers unwilling to read thoroughly. Most finally caught on when they reported “the Governor of New York himself, a civil war hero name John Adams Dix, had marched into the streets and shot the Bengal tiger as a personal trophy.” One positive benefit was the reform of the desperately aging zoo. Few were willing to return until some needed repairs were made to cages and people felt safe again. Come to find out, that was Bennett’s goal all along—to wake the city council up to the dangerous condition of the zoo. And maybe sell some more papers as well…
Who comes to mind when you think of someone as being full of truth? Why?
Jesus, thank you that you are completely trustworthy in all things. We ask for the wisdom to look to your word to find truth in the midst of confusing times. May the truth of your word and who you are anchor us at all times.
An important point to make about this verse is to emphasize the unity of grace and truth. We’ve addressed these words and ideas separately in these devotions, because they can be separate ideas. But it’s also important to recognize that in this verse, these two words come together in such a way that they represent one idea. Kind of like peanut-butter-and-jelly, or salt-and-pepper. When they are together like that, you view them as one thing, not two separate things.
In the New Testament, every time the words grace and truth appear together in the same verse, they always refer to Jesus. He is the perfect embodiment of the two ideas. They are perfectly unified in him. We tend to split them up and even pit them against one another like they’re opposite ideas. Here’s a common approach:
“She showed them grace” (i.e she was nice)
“He gave them some truth.” (i.e. he had to say something difficult, maybe not even being nice about it).
But when it comes to talking about Jesus and these two words, he perfectly balances the two. Because all truth is full of grace, and all grace is full of truth. There is no such thing as untruthful grace or ungraceful truth. In Jesus we come to know what grace and truth really mean. Any understanding of these words apart from how they are revealed through Him will be partial. He is perfect and perfectly full of grace and truth.