Christ the King Weekend: "Truth"

Christ the King Weekend: "Truth"

November 21, 2021 | Ryan Arnold

Passage: John 18:33-37

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    A reflection on John 18:33-38a for Christ the King Sunday.

    What is truth?

    The question is an old one, dating back long before Pilate voiced this memorable phrase.

    The notion of truth was part of ancient Hebrew culture, baked right into the ten commandments. To faithfully follow thou shalt not lie requires knowledge of whether you speak truth, or not.

    Ancient Greek philosophers were fascinated with the topic. The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing, said Socrates. This quote was parodied in the first Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – upon hearing it, Ted looks over to Bill and excitedly replies, that’s us dude! The pair wasn’t known for being overly smart.

    A Few Good Men
    Then there’s the 1992 film A Few Good Men, where Tom Cruise tries to squeeze the truth out of Jack Nicholson in an epic conflict. In the film Cruise plays military lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee; Nicholson plays Colonel Nathan Jessup.

    The climax of the film features a courtroom scene where Lieutenant Kaffee attempts to get Colonel Jessup to confess to ordering a code red, which killed one of Jessup’s men. The crux of the script is this brief clip:

    Kaffee: Colonel Jessup, did you order the code red?
    Jessup: You want answers?
    Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to them.
    Jessup: You want answers?
    Kaffee: I want the truth!
    Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!

    Jessup then goes on a long monologue about duty, honor, the call to protect. After additional animated questioning from Kaffee, Jessup confesses to ordering the code red. The scene ends with Jessup in handcuffs, with two innocent men cleared of wrongdoing. Truth in this story brought justice, and freedom.

    John’s Truth
    Truth is also a major theme in the New Testament. Particularly in the book of John. The Greek term for truth used in scripture, aletheia, means an unconcealed, absolute, revealed knowledge now made clear. It is an aha moment, an epiphany that, once discovered, can’t easily be ignored.

    This unconcealed revealed truth is mentioned over two dozen times in John’s gospel, building a case for what – and who – truth is.

    In chapter 1, right near the beginning, the author reminds us that the law was given through Moses. But grace and truth? That came through Jesus.

    Chapter 8 finds Jesus encouraging his disciples to continue in his word. For *then* you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

    Jesus gives a straight up definition in chapter 14, saying I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    The last mention of truth in John’s gospel serves as a capstone course for the term, a culmination for all the author wants us to understand.

    One Good Man
    Similar to A Few Good Men, today’s text also features another epic courtroom scene. Today’s text is part of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. It is an important part of the Passion narrative. Modern scholars consider these six verses the second scene of a seven-part Passion drama. Centuries before Shakespeare, John also knew how to put together a memorable scene.

    In scene one, Jesus is taken from Caiphas to Pilate early in the morning. Pilate then talks with the religious leaders about the charges being brought against Jesus.

    Scene two of the courtroom drama begins with Pilate deciding he needs to speak with Jesus himself to learn more. Their conversation goes something like this:

    Pilate: Are you the King of the Jews? (getting straight to the point.)
    Jesus: Are you asking on your own, or is word getting out?
    Pilate: I am not Jewish, how else would I know?
    Your own people have handed you over to me.
    What have you done?

    (Pilate hopes for a quick confession. He was a busy man. It’d be nice to move on to the next case.)

    Jesus: My kingdom is not from this world.
    If it were my followers would be fighting to keep me here.
    As you can see, they are not.

    (Jesus looked around the empty room. Just the two of them stood there).

    Pilate: So you are a king?
    Jesus: You say I am a king. (Jesus demurs)
    For this I was born.
    For this I came into the world.
    To testify to the truth.
    Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
    Pilate: What is truth?

    Jesus was silent. The question hung in the air, left unanswered. End scene.

    How this drama concludes is familiar; it is played out on Good Friday in churches annually around the globe.

    The antagonist in this scene, Pilate, was arguably the most powerful, most in-control person in Jerusalem. As the local representative of the greatest world power of the era he was judge, jury, executioner. He was arbiter of what was true, what was not.

    Pilate wanted the truth from Jesus, he really did. It was his job, after all, to discern it. But when shown the unconcealed Truth of Jesus he was simply blind.

    Pilate stood there, eyes wide shut. He had been staring Truth in the face, completely unaware of who it was that stood before him.

    Admittedly the task for Pilate to see, to really see Jesus clearly would have been difficult for him. Earthly understandings of truth typically center on being consistent with fact, to represent reality well. Truth is central to most human endeavors like philosophy, government, science.

    Where would we be without a sense of what is true.

    This is the lens from which Pilate viewed the case.
    Perhaps for that reason we shouldn’t be too tough on the guy.

    Yet truth, as a matter of faith, is more than just fact, belief or thought. Listen to my voice, Jesus beckons. Follow me, Jesus offers. For it is then, and only then, when you shall belong to the truth.

    What is truth? Truth is faith in action. It is following the path of Christ. It is an unwavering commitment to conform with God’s will.

    Christ the King
    On this day the church celebrates the festival of Christ the King. The day is somewhat new, at least in church terms – it was instituted by Pope Pius XI between World Wars I and II. The Pope was concerned about a growing global wave of nationalism at the time. Hindsight suggests he was right.

    In our modern era we face a rise in authoritarianism, government strong men, and Christian nationalism. In that way perhaps not much has changed.

    Yet with this proclamation, that Christ is King, the Church makes it known that we only bow to Jesus the Christ. We declare we do not give allegiance to any other person, principality or power claiming to be sovereign. We bow only to Christ, and Christ alone.

    This is our truth.

    Reflecting on recent news some – let us also consider what it means to live in an era where a white man can walk into a crowd with an automatic weapon, shoot three people, killing two, and face no consequence at all.

    This is the news coming out of Kenosha two days ago.
    This is the current truth of America.
    And it is not the truth the Prince of Peace wants for us.

    For we are called to more.

    As we look toward the upcoming season of Advent, a time marked patiently waiting for a newborn king, let us wait well.

    What is truth?

    We seek answers.
    We desire peace.
    Christ provides the way.
    Open our eyes to your path, Lord.
    May we journey well.  Amen.