Most of us would agree that a good joke stands the test of time. One joke I particularly like was found carved on the wall of a Roman bath and is estimated to be about 2000 years old. Now that is staying power. I still find it funny.

It goes like this:

A guy passes an acquaintance on the street and says, “I heard you were dead.”

The other man replies, “well, you can see that is not true; I am standing right here.”

The first man replies, “well, I don’t know who to believe because the man who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.”

I especially like the joke because it has an underlying point; it is not just stupid humor like most jokes are.

The underlying message is that our reputation is important; it colors how we are perceived and believed, even by those closest to us.

Yet, it is something too many are willing to let go of just to get a short-term gain that will not last very long. Our reputation can often outlast even us. Sometimes people are even judged by the reputation of their forefathers.

Many might believe that if they tell the truth 95% of the time that their reputation will remain intact because the ratio of truth to lies is high enough. That is simply bad math.

The funny thing about liars and cheaters is that they are one of the first ones to fall for others lies; lies that most honest people see through immediately.

So why do we do it? Why do we think so much in the short term and gloss over the long-term consequences of our actions?

Worse than losing our own reputation, too often we disparage the reputation of the Church and can become part of those who are lumped into those “unreliable Christians”.

You may have read the story recently of a priest and nun in India who were finally charged with murder after 35 years. They were having an affair together when another nun walked in on them. Instead of coming clean, they murdered her and then set it up to look like a suicide. Then they actively lied for the next 30+ years to keep it covered up.

The first thing that comes to mind is why they bothered to continue in their roles as priest and nun? Haven’t they done enough in destroying their own reputations? Instead, they had to keep up the charade and drag the Church down with them.

What drives this behavior? I think we know the answer. We are all wicked people, and once we quit understanding this, then we open ourselves up to the possibility of perpetuating a deception that can lead to all kinds of evil.

It is hard to remind ourselves regularly of this personal defect that we all have. When we do, we may become despondent about it, but the alternative is worse.

Let’s take some time this week to ponder our own shortcomings; it is the first step to guarding our reputation.