“What is truth?” Pilate asks of Jesus. What is truth?
This question struck me this week as I, like so many others, have been
watching the world news unfold in the wake of the attacks in Paris, as a public debate is taking place about what the “true” Christian response is to a Syrian refugee crisis, as violence continues to break out around the globe and still it seems that light-skinned people are mourned more deeply and more publicly than dark-skinned people.. “What is truth?” I’ve wondered as protesters have been gathering in front of a Minneapolis
North Side police precinct office demanding answers to questions surrounding the death of Jamar Clark who was shot by police a week ago. Not just “what is ‘the’ truth?” but what is truth when there are so many people and perspectives and experiences involved. “What is truth?”
I’ve also been thinking about “What is truth?” as friends and acquaintances on social media are participating in various versions of what I call the “Thankful Game” that many of us are likely going to play when we sit around Thanksgiving tables later this week. You know the one – – where we go around the table and name something for which we are thankful. Only on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram users post daily a word, phrase, story, or picture representing something for which they are thankful with the hashtag “30daysofgratitude” or something similar. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the posts that I see, and I certainly see the benefit of such an activity in cultivating an attitude of gratitude. But I also wonder sometimes if they tell the whole story. I wonder if we are sometimes encouraged to paint a picture of our lives that is prettier than reality on some social media. Do these daily disciplines illumine dark places with the light of truth or do they blind us from the reality that not all of life is picture perfect? I wonder if they are partial truth and if somewhere, not too far beneath the surface, there is another truth lurking in most people’s lives – stories of pain or sadness, struggle and mixed feelings. What is truth?
Jesus’ trial in front of Pilate is one of those darker stories taking place beneath the surface of the otherwise joyful celebration of Passover among Jews in Jerusalem. While throngs of people have come to the city to worship and give thanks for the redemption of their ancestors from slavery, behind the feasts and sacrifices are the events of Jesus’ triumphal entry, arrest, trial, and, eventually, his crucifixion.
Pilate is caught in the middle of an internal struggle within the Jewish community. He is Roman. His job is govern the land that his government occupies, protect the interests of the caesar, and enforce the ironically named Pax Romana, “the peace of Rome,” by any means necessary. He has been told that Jesus claims to be the king of the Jews, a problem, if it is true, because it represents a threat to the king, the caesar, the ruler back in Rome. But is what he has been told true? Well, yes and no. Jesus is sovereign; he is Lord. He is Son of God, and he is God, the king and ruler of the universe. But at the same time Jesus didn’t seek out a kingship the way the world characterizes kingship. He didn’t hold it over others to manipulate with power; he didn’t post a selfie wearing a crown and tag it #grateful. He is king, but not in the way the world expects a king, and therefore he resists answering such a loaded question. And in this glimpse of the truth that shines through in his conversation with Pilate we can discover what it means to follow him as his disciples and ones who carry the name of this different kind of king today.
Jesus reigns not with political power, but with humility, not with physical might, but with mercy, not with violence, but surrender, even surrender unto death. He didn’t come to enforce rules, but he came that his life might point to, testify to true living. He came to point to the One who designed life in order that we might set our ways according to the divine way, that we might live in the good news of God’s unfailing, unconditional, justice-seeking, outcast-including, love. And the truth of this love, the truth of the the gospel, the truth of Jesus, the truth of our God isn’t always picture perfect. It’s rarely easy. It’s sometimes messy. It’s often risky. And it may just set us at odds with our culture.
When Jesus spent his ministry testifying to the truth, it got him slapped, whipped, spat upon, and killed. When Jesus pointed to a love that is for the whole world, not just for those with privilege and knowledge and money and the right color of skin, it got him rejected. The truth is that the things the world often counts as blessings – money, luxury, security, power, prestige – are exactly the things that Jesus cautions us about holding onto. So while they may be things for which we offer thanks, this season or any, the truth of who Jesus is needs to push us to consider:
How did Jesus use his “kingship”? He used it to speak difficult truth to power, to stand on the side of the outcast, to welcome sinners into his inner circle, to bring life where there is death, to lift up those who have been laid low by circumstance or society.
How then will we use our status, our influence, our privilege – – whether we asked for it or not? Whether we were born into it or we worked for it? And this Thanksgiving will we simply offer thanks for the gifts in our lives and stop there or will we use what we have to testify to the truth – to God’s love for all, even when it risks our safety, our security, our lives. Giving thanks is an important part of living in response to the gospel, but it’s not an end in and of itself. Risking those gifts for the blessing of others is the next step in truthful, thankful living. Amen.