Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Whole Truth

Consider Pilate. I want you to try to identify with him, not feel sorry for him, or get angry with him, but for just a few moments, try to put yourself in his shoes. If you will navigage to Ralph Milton's Rumors

you will find a great portrayal of Pilate's wife's version of Sunday's text, Jesus' trail before Pilate.

I can’t help but wonder if she was right. I wonder if Pilate and Jesus could have identified with each other if they had met under different circumstances?

On Sunday, 11/22, we end the Church year AND prepare for it’s beginning by celebrating the REIGN of CHRIST.

We do so by recognizing that Jesus’ reign wasn’t recognized during his time. His Kingdom, as he said, is not of this world. Hear the dialogue between the two: (now that you have the perspective of Pilate’s wife from which to hear the story.)

(John 18: 33-38)

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and said to him, “You are the King of the Judeans.”

34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

35Pilate 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?”

36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be violently contending[i] to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

37Pilate 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 hears my voice.”

38Pilate 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.

Pilate needs to know if Jesus is a threat to him and his little piece of the Roman kingdom. Perhaps others might see Jesus’ as a minor disturbance, not hardly a threat. But Pilate has faced trouble before from these Judeans. He is not above a little paranoia about how this particular disagreement could turn into a major revolt.

Can you put yourself in his shoes?

He sees that Jesus has incurred the wrath of the Judean Officials,

As the governing authority for ALL the people in the territory, he has a few options.

  • He can determine if there is a valid case against Jesus, for which he can apply punishment.
  • He can evaluate if Jesus is of any political use to him.
  • He can work WITH the Judeans, possibly making them indebted to him
  • He can even decide if Jesus really has a kingdom and how that fits (if it fits) into his world.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls Jesus a mirror (in this story):

She says the dialogue that day between Pilate and Jesus

“involved a collision between religion and politics. While Pilate and the chief priests conspired to solve their mutual problem

while managing to remain enemies,

Jesus stood at the center of the stage like a mirror in which all those around him saw themselves clearly for who they were.”

She challenges us to look into that same mirror, “One way we Christians have avoided seeing our own reflections. . . is to pretend that this is a story about Romans and Jews. As long as they remain the villains, then we are off the hook -- or so we think.”[ii]

We may not preside over trials, nor anything as significant as what Pilate faced, yet moments come when we are faced with the truth, and the opportunity to decide for truth.

All Thru Jesus’ trial, the world (as represented by the Judeans AND Pilate) operates on self-serving versions of the truth. The WORLD (THEIR world) “supposes it has placed Jesus on trial and condemned him by its own criteria. .” When we move from identifying with Pilate to identifying with Jesus, OUR KING, we recognize that it was “the world on trial that day and in condemning Jesus, it condemns itself.”[iii]

It all hinges on how WE view the truth.

For the Judeans, the high priests and leaders of the People who are Jesus’ opponents, the truth is expressed in chapter 11 when this same high priest, Caiaphas says,

“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (11:50)

This is THEIR truth. They need to keep power and control because in their ‘truth’, only keeping control will protect the people. AND save their own interests. Therefore, no threat to their power can be tolerated .

For Pilate, Truth is the potential that any political situation can evolve into a revolt that will get back to his superiors and ruin his reputation. Perhaps even resulting in his removal from office. (Which history tells us does happen later.)

Truth is Pilate’s power over everyone in the territory, the power of life and death and yet it is THIS power that Jesus’ rejects.

Jesus’ compares the truth of the world’s kingdom and its violence when he explains that IF his kingdom WERE of this world, violence WOULD be used to gain his release. But that is NOT the case.

Jesus’ power is not based on violence, his kingdom is not from this world, his truth is not based on relative position or political power.

For people in power, truth is what they make it. We see it in our time too.

  • Truth can be any statement that is repeated enough times until people believe it.
  • Truth can depend on which news channel you watch or which newspaper you read. It should not be so, and in
  • a court, we trust that ‘truth’ does come out. But for people my age, we have learned to have doubts about what people call ‘truth’.

Truth is a major theme in John’s gospel.[iv] (25x’s in John)

Jesus says,

“Those who do what is TRUE come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (3:210

“The hour is coming , and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. .”

Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (4:23-24)

Pilate’s mistake is in assuming that truth is a ‘what’ that can be clearly stated.

This is not the understanding in John’s gospel.

Jesus’ doesn’t teach the truth, he doesn’t ‘have’ the truth, Jesus’ is not just a great teacher who conveys ‘great truths’.[v]

JESUS gives himself.

He said, “If you continue IN MY WORD, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you free.” (v. 8:31-32)

TRUTH Is a ‘who, not a ‘what’.

“Truth is a personal encounter and a relationship with the Holy Spirit who guides’ ALL the disciples of Jesus into ‘truth’.

TRUTH is doing, it is ethics and following what we term, ‘God’s will’ or what is later called ‘Jesus’ Way’.

For Pilate, “Truth is not an axiom that can be proven. Truth is the one who stands on trial before him.[vi]

We have to answer Pilate’s question, What is truth?

We can not avoid choosing between the truth of the world and Jesus’ truth by saying this story is about Romans and Judeans.

We can walk in someone else’s shoes to see if THEY recognize truth.

We can analyze situations and make decisions based on the world’s truth.

But we can only Know What Truth Is by Knowing Jesus and Following Him.

Unless we know ‘truth’ in the person of Jesus’ - we will never understand the paradox that makes Jesus’ crucifixion ALSO his exaltation.

Jesus is ENTHRONED on the cross.

That contradiction in terms is as the heart of Jesus’ truth.

It makes this story that leads up to his crucifixion, the perfect story for “Christ The King Sunday.”

When we know Jesus.

When we are baptized into his community,

Then TRUTH is at the heart of WHO we ARE.

All The truth of Jesus life, his priority on the poor, his rejection of violence, his embracing people of all kinds and his ‘telling the truth’ to people who thought they had the power of life and death over him,

ALL this, is the truth of Jesus’ Kingdom.

This Truth makes a difference in our lives and they way we live it, and it comes at a very high cost.

Giving up the priorities of the world,

Even giving up life itself, is HOW Jesus’ Reigns.

Pilate, poor, poor Pilate, with all his wealth and power, he couldn’t pay the high cost of entering this Kingdom.

He didn’t see THE truth.



[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor Barbara Brown Taylor teaches at Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. This article appeared in the Christian Century, March 18-25, 1998, page 283; copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

[iii] Boring and Craddock, People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2004) p. 349

[iv] Boring and Craddock, see above, p. 350

[v] Boring and Craddock see above p. 350

[vi] Paul Berge, Emeritus Professor of NT at Luther Seminary on Working


Sophia said...

Powerful, thank you. I love the focus on truth--I have been thinking of the same thing esp given what I am grappling with right now--but forgot just how many refs there are in John. And I love the careful avoidance of/education against the traditional anti-Semitic interpretation of this and other Gospel treatments of Pilate.

Rev Nancy Fitz said...

thanks Sophia, I do try to educate on the "Jews" constant reference in John. I don't think we can say it too many times. Are you going with the truth emphasis? You surely have the examples, but can you use them?