'What is Truth?'
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“What is truth?” is how one of the passages that we read this morning ends. What is truth? Who am I to sit here this morning and claim to speak of what truth is on this most solemn of days. You might not even know me. You might know me very well and still ask that question! Truth is a thing that seems to be very much in short supply these days. “Live your truth” we’re told. “Whose truth are we living?” is the next question. To whom do we look as we seek truth? Experts maybe? I remember when I was young and we still watched commercials on television (imagine!). You’d have an ad for toothpaste and in it they would say “Four out of five dentists agree!” Now I have to say I always wondered about that fifth dentist but this was a compelling argument in its day. If that many dental experts said that something about a product was true, then it must be true!
You don’t hear that so much today. Am I supposed to come on here like some sort of spiritual expert and tell you what the truth is? There are a lot of competing truth claims around. Large swaths of people view the same events through completely different lenses. Large swaths of people see the same events and come away with different interpretations of what’s going on. We’ve seen this played out since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, haven’t we? We continue to see it going on. It’s been going on since time immemorial. People viewing the same events and coming to different conclusions about what the events mean.
What’s the story and what does it mean? We’ve been hearing the story of Jesus. The narrative of Jesus if you like. These days we say narrative a lot instead of story. Narrative is basically a fancier way of saying story. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of times now, “narrative” is basically a word that’s subbing in for “spin.” So we hear talk about changing the narrative or framing the narrative which basically means “How are we going to spin these events?”
And we wonder whom or what to believe and we want to do our research and be well informed and we go down rabbit holes and don’t even talk to me about Reddit and…. and the mind boggles. And we just want to stop. The good news is, that’s what we’re doing. There’s a man in our story today who asks the question “What is truth?” This man has an encounter with Jesus. He finds himself alone with Jesus. Isolated with Jesus. It’s a good place to be.
I’m talking about Pilate of course. The Roman governor. This man who has come down to Jerusalem from where he normally lived on the coast in order to ensure that things remained peaceful during Passover.
And we all want peace yes?
We’ve been following the story of Jesus through these weeks of Lent. At the point where Pilate meets him, Jesus has been arrested by soldiers and police from the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus has been bound. He’s been taken to Annas, the father in law of Caiphas who was the high priest that year. Jesus has been struck on the face. He’s been brought before the Roman governor. Pilate meets them outside because, though they’re seeking Jesus’ death, it wouldn’t do for them to defile themselves by entering a Roman residence (the irony is rich here as seeking a man’s death is totally fine). Pilate asks what the charges are. He is told that if Jesus were not guilty then they wouldn’t have brought him. This logical fallacy is a little too fallacious for Pilate. Justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done after all. Pilate doesn’t want anything to do with the situation. “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law,” he tells this leaders. “We can’t,” they say, “because we want him dead.”
So Pilate goes inside again and summons Jesus. Now they’re alone. He’s having an encounter with Jesus. Picture the scene. On one side you have the man representing Roman power. The clothes. The hair. Put together. On the other, you have this local northerner whose face is out to here. In this scene, we get to have an encounter with Jesus. “Are you the King of the Jews?” What kind of king is this? You can almost hear the sneer or at least the incredulity in Pilate’s voice here. Is this man claiming to be king? The thing about kings in the ancient world was this. There were two ways you got to be king generally. One was you were born into it. The other was by violent takeover. Is this a matter of sedition? Of treason?
Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion answers a question with a question. “Is this your own question or did others tell you about me?” Are you asking because you want to know personally or are you asking from the point of view of the ruling government or because of what you’ve heard from the people who arrested me? Pilate replies “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus replies that his kingdom is not from this world. If it were then Jesus would not have stayed Peter’s hand when he struck with the sword. The way of the world is strength and power – military, economic, social, political, religious even. Power. Power that is gained or held onto by force. Power that is wielded over others. Power that says one must lose so that another can win.
Note that Jesus isn’t talking about an otherworldly kingdom here. His kingdom is not from this world but it is most definitely for this world. “So you are king?” Pilate asks. Once again ignoring the question Jesus says “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
Remember when we started this story? We talked about the Word. The logos. In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We talked about the idea of the word as the thing that makes everything make sense. As wisdom. The thing on which we base our lives. The light by which we see everything. Let us ask this question before Jesus for ourselves this morning. Not on a theoretical level. Not on a hypothetical level. Let us ask this question of Jesus from the depths of our souls, from the deepest part of us. “Are you the king?”
The time for words is over. It’s hard for the preacher as words are so often all we have. The time for words though is over. We’re not making propositions when we speak of the truth. I’m not here this Good Friday morning to make a proposition and ask you to buy it. I’m here to invite us into an encounter with the Living Word. The question, you see, is not so much “What is truth?” We’re not talking esoterics or philosophy here, much as we like so often to keep the things that matter the most, the things with the deepest meaning on the level of the theoretical.
One thing this pandemic has done, it’s given us a chance to consider the deepest truths. It’s given us a chance to be completely honest with one another.
The operative question this day and every day is not so much “What is truth?” The question is rather “Who is truth?”
The one who is truth is not going to merely speak it. The one who is truth is about to show who truth is. Right after this, we’re going to see a man who has been condemned set free because things in John often point to truths beyond themselves. The prisoner will be set free because of the one who dies in his place. The truth is going to show the world that the thing worth basing our lives on, our foundation, the one thing which our hearts can hold on to is the self-sacrificing saving reconciling redeeming love that will be shown on the cross by God’s son. The love that will pray for those who are killing him. The love that will show care for his mother and his beloved friend as Jesus announces a whole new way of being in the family of God – “Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” Look after her. Look after one another because you are a new family in Christ Jesus. The one who will say “It is finished” when love’s redeeming work is done. He is the truth.
How good it is to be able to encounter him this Good Friday morning. To say “Jesus you are the way, the truth, and the life.” To say with John “In him was life and the life was the light of all people.” And so we call Jesus our King. Our invitation is to count ourselves among those who belong to the truth and listens to his voice like sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd
I belong to the truth. I invite you to make the same claim – whether it’s for the first time or the 768th time.
And even in the darkest days, we say “Let your light shine in us. Let your truth shine on us and through us, this Good Friday, and every day.” May this be the prayer of each and every one. Amen