To What Truth Do You Belong?
To what truth do you belong?
That’s not where we begin on this Sunday that we call the Reign of Christ. But that’s where we’re heading.
In our gospel reading, in this trial scene that leads up to the crucifixion, Pilate begins with the king question.
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus sidesteps the question. Because the straight answer is both yes and no. Yes, because Jesus is Lord. No, because when Pilate says king he’s talking about power, dominance, might. That’s Pilate’s world. Pilate fights for power. Jesus will not fight for power, he will not order his followers to fight for power.
Pilate belongs to a truth. Pilate’s truth is that might is right, that power is the most important thing. That is Pilate’s truth – but it is not the truth. It is not God’s truth. It’s not the truth that Jesus belongs to.
Despite being placed in an adversarial context, Jesus loves Pilate, and even in these last hours of his life he tries to open Pilate’s eyes, tries to move him to a new understanding of truth.
“You say that I’m a king.” You’re trying to fit me into your understanding, your power struggles, your way of seeing the world.
“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?”
And that’s a great question. If I was to ask you whether you belong to the truth, probably the first thing you’d ask me in return is Pilate’s question: “What is truth?”
And if you were allowed a follow up question, I expect it would be this: “What do you mean by belonging to the truth?”
Because we’re so used to thinking of truth in terms of fact and logic. If I ask people to tell me something true, many will respond, 1 + 1 = 2. That’s true, as far as I know anyways. But with the possible exception of some mathematicians, that’s just not a truth that you can belong to.
But we all belong to a truth!
What truth do you belong to? What is the organizing principle of your life, what do you value most, what is the belief that animates you, that motivates you, that gets you going, that gets you out of bed in the morning?
Pilate’s truth is that might is right, that achieving power is what it’s all about. That was the truth that he belonged to, the truth that ruled his life. He was by all accounts, biblical and otherwise, an ambitious and ruthless tyrant who spent his life climbing the ladder of power and scheming how to outmanoeuvre his adversaries. That was his truth, the one he belonged to, the lens he used to see and manipulate the world around him.
What truth do you belong to? There are lots out there to choose from. Your truth might be that the more money you have, the happier you will be, that money is the key to life. If you belong to this truth, you will try to do what you need to do to be successful financially. You’ll get an education, one that will get you a good job. You’ll get that job, you’ll work hard, you’ll make finances a priority in your relationships and your household. You know this story, you know people who belong to this truth.
Or maybe you belong to the truth that family is the most important thing. And so you’ll organize your life to prioritize family, and you’ll look after your parents and want the best for your partner and kids, you’ll advocate for them, pull a few strings if you have to.
Maybe freedom is the truth that you belong to. You want to live a life free from constraints, nobody tells me what to do. Maybe you’ll travel, maybe you’ll move halfway around the world, always ready to move on, ready to experience new things.
Or maybe you’re one of those people who want to make an impact on the world, maybe that’s the truth you belong to. You advocate, you protest, you network, you’re ambitious, you crave ways that you can be that difference in the world.
What truth do you belong to? I think it’s a good exercise to reflect on that a bit, to try to answer that question for ourselves. There are many truths that we can belong to. Some are more life-giving than others, for ourselves and for those around us.
But are any of these the truth that Jesus is talking about?
Back to Pilate’s question: What is the truth?
Jesus told him, “For this I was born, for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth.” That’s a big claim.
It’s the claim that John, the gospel writer, has been trying to make all throughout his gospel:
Right from the beginning he writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
When Thomas is scared and feeling lost, and asks Jesus “how can we know the way?” Jesus replies, “I am the way, the truth and the life. If you know me, you will know the Father.”
We all belong to a truth. John, the gospel writer, wants us to see the truth. Jesus takes it a step further. He wants us to belong to the truth. That’s why he was born, that’s why he came into the world, to witness to the truth. To reveal God’s truth to us, to make God known.
So if we want to know that truth, we watch Jesus. We listen to Jesus. We tell ourselves his story. He teaches the truth, but even more than that, he belongs to the truth. He embodies the truth. It is the organizing principle of his life, the animating belief, the thing that gets him out of bed in the morning.
So what is the truth?
In its simplest terms, the truth is that God loves us, and God created us to love God and to love one another just as God has loved us. Need more details? Wondering what that looks like? It looks like Jesus. Jesus is the truth.
Do you belong to this truth? Is it your organizing principle, the understanding that gives your life meaning, the belief that animates you and gets you out of bed in the morning?
If it is, then you will have an abundant life. Belonging to this truth gives you everything you need. It gives you a sense of identity, dignity, and worth. You are a child of God, loved and worthy of love. Belonging to this truth gives your life meaning and purpose. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Belonging to this truth gives you relationships and a connection with something bigger than yourself. You belong.
All of which is life-giving, all of which is a gift, which I think is why John often pairs truth with grace. The two go together.
In Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. They design a super computer, specially built for this purpose. After 7 million years, the computer gives them the answer: 42.
Two thousand years ago in the midst of competing truth claims, the vicious, scheming governor of an obscure Roman province asked a political prisoner “what is truth?”
That prisoner answered with his life: God loves us, and we are to love each other.
May you belong to the truth and listen to his voice.
Homily: Yr B Reign of Christ, Nov 25 2018, St. Albans
Readings: 2 Sam 23.1-7; Ps 93; Rev 1.4b-8; John 18.33-38a
Image by Sue Cro, Creative Commons