In our reading from John’s gospel we have a glimpse at the conversation between Jesus in Pilate. Jesus tells Pilate that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate responds to Jesus with the question “What is truth?”
It is a potent question and one worth asking of ourselves. What is truth as it pertains to Jesus Christ and following his teaching?
Text: John 18: 33-38
What is Truth?
Have you ever had a problem that was confounding you? It didn’t matter what you did, you couldn’t solve it. No matter what angle or what new approach you attempted you just couldn’t quite figure out the solution. Perhaps you read a book to help you with it or you did a search on Google to find the answer. While you found some interesting insights, nothing was right for your situation. Your problem remained unsolved.
And then it hit you. The answer to your question or problem had been staring you in the face the whole time. Once you realized the solution you were amazed that you hadn’t thought of it sooner! It seemed so simple!
This is the situation that Pilate finds himself in our reading from John’s gospel this morning. It is a strange text to read at this time of year to be sure. A passage that is more often read on Good Friday. A story that comes at the end of Jesus’ life. Yet, here we are at the end of the church year considering this encounter between Pilate and Jesus.
Today is Christ the King Sunday when we celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives and head of the church. As we celebrate this we do so with the same question that Pilate asked.
What is truth? What is truth?
What is truth when you believe one thing about an issue and someone else believes something different to be true about the same issue? What is truth? Are you both right or are you both wrong?
What is truth?
This is Pilate’s question. It is also our question.
What is truth?
In a world torn apart by bombings, war, hunger, homelessness, illness and selfishness among other things, what is truth?
Truth, unfortunately for those who seek it, escapes definition, it escapes our control. You’ve heard the expression ‘the truth hurts’. Another expression is the truth is often a bitter pill to swallow. Friends, the truth is found at the foot of the cross. The truth is found in a blessing which hurts. The truth is found in grace. The truth is found when we reach the end of our despair.
We need to be reminded that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. What is it that strive for?
We believe that Jesus Christ is the King. That the Kingdom to which we belong is not of this world and yet it is a part of this world.
Jesus Christ is the King. We represent the church and in representing the Church we represent Jesus Christ. The church is not beholden to a political power, a social ideology or the whims of a consumerist society. We subject to the teachings of Christ Jesus. Our job is to live that out in the world. How we do so may vary, but make no mistake we are called to live that out.
Not because it is good for our health, not because it will make us rich, not because it will make us popular. We do so because the kingdom to which we belong is one based on peace, justice and mercy. Because the king we follow is not interested in getting re-elected, lining his pockets or being the most loved monarch. Rather the king we follow is interested in dispensing grace and love.
The conversation with Jesus and Pilate offers Pilate a way out of his predicament. It offers Pilate the opportunity to say, “You are correct others have told me this. Tell me more about you and this kingdom you speak of, tell me of the truth you speak of.” What Pilate failed to grasp was that the truth was staring him in the face for the entirety of the conversation he had with Jesus.
Jesus is the King of the church. Jesus is the Lord of life and the Prince of Peace. Yet, Jesus came to earth to live as us. Ultimately, Jesus would die a painful death. Yet, even standing before the only man who can condemn him to death Jesus offers him an olive branch. Jesus says it doesn’t have to be this way; simply understand and accept the truth which I offer. This is one of the last conversations that Jesus will have with a human being and Jesus offers grace.
When I think of questions about truth I am often reminded of the courtroom scene from the movie A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise is questioning Jack Nicholson, it is a charged and explosive scene. At one point Tom Cruise says, “I want the truth!” To which Jack Nicholson replies, “You can’t handle the truth!”
Pilate had the truth staring him in the face. Jesus, who tells us earlier in John’s gospel that he is ‘the way, and the truth and the life’ is standing in front of Pilate. Pilate asks what is truth and all he needs to do is to look at Jesus, the life he has led, the teaching he has done, the healing ministry he has engaged in and he will find his answer.
However, Pilate doesn’t do this. The question we might ask is why? Why doesn’t he ask further, why doesn’t he seek deeper meaning and understanding. Friends, I feel the answer to that question is because he was afraid he couldn’t handle the truth. That deep down Pilate knew that accepting the truth which Jesus offered would jeopardize everything that Pilate held dear and he couldn’t handle that. Pilate was unwilling to give up his position, his privilege, his wealth, his influence and his security.
I often wonder if we too are unwilling or unable to handle the truth we find in Jesus Christ. Over the past week and a half we are still reeling from an attack on Paris, bombings in Beirut and Baghdad. In the time that has passed I have witnessed a lot of what I would identify as hate speech. That might be putting things strongly, but I stand by it.
People are saying we should not let refugees in to this country. We can’t take the risk. What if?
Friends today we give praise to Jesus Christ, our King, the Lord of life and the Prince of peace. We have heard his words in John’s gospel, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Just what is it that Jesus has been saying all this time?
To simplify the message enormously he has been saying to love people, all people. To welcome people. Let’s remember that Jesus after he was born fled his country because of political persecution. Let’s remember that when Mary was pregnant she and Joseph travelled to a different part of the country and when they arrived no one welcomed them. There was no room for them, no room for baby Jesus.
That is a story which breaks our hearts, that no one made room for this pregnant family. That no one made room for Jesus Christ, God’s son. That he had to be born in a stable. Surely, after 2000 years we have learned this lesson. Surely, after 2000 years we have moved further than this.
It was only a few generations ago on May 13, 1939 that the Steam Ship St. Louis sailed from Germany with over 900 passengers. Almost all of which were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. They arrived in Havana Cuba and were denied entry. They sailed north towards Miami and they were denied entry. The ship returned to Europe. 288 passengers found refuge in Great Britain, the remainder were spread between Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Of those on the continent 254 people died in the Holocaust, the remainder endured it.
History, if we don’t learn from it we are doomed to repeat it.
What is truth?
Truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ, whose living and dying reflects the will of God in our lives. Truth is found when we listen to the voice of Jesus who praised the Samaritan, who said blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
It’s a hard message, we have difficulty with it at times. Sometimes one part is easier than another, we pick and choose the gospel based on what suites us. However, that isn’t how it works folks and as a result sometimes, we turn our back on Jesus because ‘we can’t handle the truth.’
A truth which also says ‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.’ Amen.