Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Barbara Brown Taylor writes in one of her sermons, “According to John, Jesus died because he told the truth to everyone he met. He was the truth, a perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God’s own light.” This moment when Jesus and Pilate confront seems to be a pinnacle of the Jesus story. All along Jesus has told us that he is the truth in John and now Pilate asks him head on. “What is truth?” Jesus doesn’t need to respond because the answer has already been given to us. As we continue to look at what it means to be a disciple in this journey, we have to talk about what it means to speak truth to power when Jesus is that truth. We are called to speak out and to work for social justice. What does that mean when Jesus embodies truth?
Now we could have a long philosophical discussion about the meaning of truth and what is true. Here is what we know through our Christian lens. Truth comes from God. Notice I did not say fact comes from God. When truth comes from God, it has to come through the whole grace and perspective lens. In order to interpret truth, we must consider what God values. God lifts up the lowly, the marginalized, the places the empire does not touch. Truth has to reflect that. Jesus did. Everything he embodied lifted up those who were forgotten. This is why Jesus is embodied truth. He is. This is why he doesn’t need to answer Pilate and why immediately, in that silence we are reminded that we must speak up.
In that very moment, we are called to speak to the power that Pilate is. Pilate is the governor of the area. He has been placed for one reason for the Romans. He has been put in that place to keep order in the region. He is not to judge. He is just to maintain. In that face of that kind of authority, truth can seem daunting but Jesus knows that all he has to do is to be in order to create change in that power structure. What must we do to speak truth to power? Truth is God’s love, God’s grace and the constant lifting up against what the empire values. Truth is a constant conversation. Truth is what we know all along if we read what Jesus does. The Gospel of John is constantly playing with what truth is and all John keeps coming up with is that truth is Jesus and we are following it. Because we are following it, we have a call to continue to fight for it.
Both denominations call us to social justice because in becoming the people that highlight where inequality resides, we are speaking truth to power. It is time to do so again.
Quotes of the Week “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ― Oscar Wilde
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” ― William Faulkner
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” ― Flannery O’Connor
John 18: 28-40 (NRSV) Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “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?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Questions for the Week
How would you define truth?
Are you called to a life of social justice? If so, why?
Is it difficult to speak truth? Could you answer Pilate?