Pilate asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” vs 38
Here we are, coming to the end of a church year that is marked by carnage in Paris, and war in Syria and Iraq. Here we are, turning toward Advent. How we answer the question about truth will make all the difference in where we go.
A Paris evening full of gunfire, ISIS fanatics, blood, bodies, shock and awe – the question is everywhere, in the living and the dead: what is truth?
The question isn’t a game. Lives hang in the balance. And many loud voices are calling us to heed their ‘truth’ about who we are, who they are, why this is happening. Elections in several nations are being shaped by this question.
What is truth? The question comes to us from Pontius Pilate, Caesar’s man in Jerusalem.
Or maybe not. It’s worth noting, despite many paintings showing a crowded court, there may have been no one there to record Jesus’ conversation with Pilate in the hour that led to his death. The gospels do not mention anyone else with them, and they do mention guards in Herod’s palace, and servants at the meeting of the Sanhedrin. The story we have is likely one the disciples ‘figured out’ from what they did know: they knew Pilate didn’t choose to free Jesus as the annual holiday pardon; they knew Pilate put the sign, King of the Jews, on his cross; and they knew Jesus.
What is truth, the question Pilate may have asked, is the question we all do ask. When there are conflicting opinions. When the truth matters. Even when it doesn’t. Maybe most of all, when it doesn’t. When we are between a rock and a hard place, and the chips are going to fall where they may.
Barbaric men, given to atrocities that make the world shiver, emerge from shadows. They violate the values we hold dear and they proclaim an insane justice, saying they are sent by God the Grim Reaper, whose servants they are. They despise us, they say, for all that we see and do, and for all we do not do and neglect to see. Their words are as ugly as their deeds.
The god they serve is quite a different god from the God of biblical literature, who is the God of Jews, Moslems, and Christians alike. But these fellows are serving a god of cruelty and murder, who values revenge and triumphs in misery. It’s worth noting that the victims of these tyrants are overwhelmingly Moslem, ordinary people they deem to be infidels.
Jesus says to Pilate: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. And Islam, which honors Jesus as a prophet, does listen to his voice, in the Koran, as one of the voices it hears. Islam does not stockpile barbarous acts as trophies for Allah. Islam does not glory in beheadings, assassinations, bombings, or joyful raising of Kalashnikovs to the heavens. Islam, in fact, honours submission: five times a day, faithful Moslems kneel and bow their foreheads to the earth, their proper posture for prayerful honor of God.
Pilate committed barbarous acts in his service to Caesar, who was more than an employer, who was considered to be divine because of his brutal ability to fight and win wars. And many who have called themselves Christian have followed in Pilate’s footsteps.
But the truth to which people belong who listen to Jesus is never this. Jesus, who walked into Jerusalem freely, endures Pilate’s brutality in service to the truth he knows and Pilate doesn’t know; the truth that life cannot be stopped by brutality and cruelty. The truth that barbarians do not own life, that it is death’s blood and gore that drips from their hands. The truth that Paris is still the city of Light, and the city of Art, of Lovers, of summer nights along the Seine, of devotion to freedom, equality and humanity.
Pilate, who looks at the world to see where power lies and where power rises, can only see the absence of power in Jesus, who carries no instrument of death in his hand or in his belt. What is truth? He asks Jesus.
Truth, like God, escapes definition, as, like God, truth also escapes our control. Job learns that truth is beyond human understanding. Jacob learns truth is a blessing that hurts. Mary learns truth emerges from the grave when her broken heart weeps. The disciples in Emmaus learn the power of truth when they have walked to the end of their despair.
The truth of God in Paris will be told to us by the young French boy who survived in the concert hall while lying next to a dead man, and who fought back tears while saying it was not a good time for him, lying there.
All his life he will wonder at the question, what is truth? And all his life, he will know. This, here, now, is the time for Advent to begin. By Nancy Rockwell
Pilate asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” vs 38