Handling the Truth

truthChrist the King B – Handling the Truth

John 18:33-38

November 22, 2015

 

I’m not a great fan of satire…

too often I mistake it for the truth.

Headlines from the satirical newspaper The Onion, get me every time…

 

Wait a minute…

“Wolf attacks are not the leading cause of death in the US?”

“Taylor Swift didn’t marry Senator Joseph McCarthy?”

I thought he was dead a long time ago – but there’s a picture of him!

 

I chalk it up to having two older sisters

who delighted in having a gullible little sister.

 

It’s not just me who has difficulty, though.

Truth is often hard to discern.

Lots of things sound like truth…

especially when they’re in print,

or spoken by someone who sounds like they know what they’re talking about!

In this trial in front of Pontius Pilate from the gospel of John,

Pilate and Jesus go back and forth, back and forth,

and at the very end, Pilate asks Jesus a question.

 

“What is truth?”

“What is truth?”

 

Frederick Buechner says,

“Someone ought to write a book about the silences in Scripture.”

This is one of them.

 

In answer to Pilate’s question,

Jesus responds according to Buechner,

“with a silence that is overwhelming in its eloquence.”

 

Pilate looks back,

and the only answer is Jesus –

the solitary man – standing quietly in front of him.

What is truth?

Truth is not a what…it’s a who…

The truth is Jesus.

 

John’s gospel begins,

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God…

And the Word became flesh and lived among us…

full of grace and truth.

 

The truth is a person….

which is kind of surprising don’t you think?

 

Most of the time, when we think of truth,

we’re thinking of verifiable facts, statements.

It’s why I always liked algebra.

There is truth in algebra it seems to me.

 

At the end of the equation when x=6,

it equals 6 no matter how many times you work through it.

It never equals 6 ¼ or 5 ½.

x =6!

There is something satisfying with having an answer –

the answer – the truth.

 

So what’s the answer to Pilate’s question?

What is truth?

 

John is clear that truth is not a religion.

Truth is not the creeds we say or even the doctrines we teach.

We have an embodied truth.

Truth is Jesus.

 

The theologian Paul Tillich points out that very early on,

the Christian church forgot that Jesus is the truth.

Instead the church began to claim that its doctrines about Jesus were the truth.

The truth then no longer set anyone free,

but rather was used as a tool to suppress, to control, and even to condemn.[i]

 

Creeds and doctrines can contain truth for sure…

but truth according to the gospel of John is Jesus.

 

Truth has a mind that thinks,

and a heart that cares.

Truth has a body with hands and feet…

and which ends up on a cross…

because  as Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men declared,

“We can’t handle the truth!”

 

At this moment, truth stands in front of Pilate.

And truth is silent.

 

Many just could not accept that Jesus was the truth.

He looked so very un-kingly.

The messiah – the anointed one – shouldn’t he look more like a king?

Shouldn’t he behave more like royalty?

 

It’s still hard to handle the truth.

 

Just a few weeks ago there was an article

which I was sure must have been from The Onion…but it wasn’t!

It said that apparently the Church of England is going to advise people of faith

not to talk about Jesus.

Surveys showed that it turns people off! [ii]

Jesus turns people off.

We just can’t handle Jesus.

 

Jesus makes us uncomfortable.

He makes a lot of us uncomfortable these days.

 

He told a story about a Samaritan stopping and helping a man along the road,

and it makes us uncomfortable,

because there are people we’re afraid to help.

 

He talked about sheep and goats and how the sheep

would be welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom,

and the goats sent away.

And he said the sheep were those who helped people in their time of need –

those who were hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned,

and the stranger – the foreigner.

And we want to be sheep,

but we’re afraid.

 

We look forward to hearing the story once again

about his birth – how he was born to a young girl in Bethlehem,

but it’s uncomfortable to remember that not long afterwards,

Jesus escaped to Egypt with his parents – a stranger received into another land.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to know the truth.

But sometimes it’s even harder to handle the truth, once we know it.

 

Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”

And Jesus stands in front of him not saying a word.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

[i] Tillich, Paul, in The New Being,  “http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=21

[ii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11966960/Talking-about-Christianity-could-just-put-people-off-Church-of-England-signals.html

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