(watch here: https://youtu.be/BNl3aeY9oW4)
28Then 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. 29So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ 30They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ 31Pilate 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.’ 32(This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask 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 fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. 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 listens to my voice.’ 38Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
Jesus Sentenced to Death
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. 39But 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?’ 40They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.
There’s the funny story about the little country boy who lived in a home without indoor plumbing. The little boy hated their outhouse because it was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and smelled gross all year long. One boring day, after a huge spring rain made the creek rise nearly to the outhouse, he decided to push the evil thing into the creek. He pushed and pushed until he got it rocking back and forth and finally it toppled into the creek and floated away. That night, his dad confronted him. “Someone pushed our outhouse into the creek today. Tell the truth, son. It was you, wasn’t it?” “Yes, dad, it was.” “Then tonight, after dinner, you and I are heading for the woodshed.” “But, dad,” argued the boy, “in school we learned that when George Washington was little, he chopped down a cherry tree and he didn’t get into trouble because he told the truth.” His dad replied, “Well, son, that may be, but George Washington’s father wasn’t in that cherry tree!”
Clever little boys often forget to use basic common sense, like checking to see if anyone is in the outhouse before pushing it into the creek! Clever little boys also have a funny understanding about what truth is. Yes, truth shall set you free as suggested by another famous quote but often in ways one would least expect. It certainly didn’t set that clever boy free from the impending punishment of his father. In fact, his confession probably made it a little worse for poor young man especially when he tried to outwit his father. The truth sets us free in mysterious ways. One person’s freedom can look quite different from the next person’s. Freedom is very much subjective. But is truth subjective? Can one person’s understanding of truth be different than another person’s?
I’ve been wrestling with these questions this week as I’ve reflected on our passage for this morning. Indeed, there seem to be several “truths” revealed in the passage. The Jews had their understanding of truth, Jesus had his understanding of truth, and Pilate had his understanding of truth. It’s no wonder Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” goes unanswered! Truth should be clear, undeniable, universal, and objective. Yet it is often hidden beneath layers and layers of deception and misunderstanding. Truth should be apparent but it seldom is. We have to dig for truth. We have to seek out truth. We have to reveal truth. Truth is easily hidden by all the forces in this world that can be destroyed by it. Truth is a powerful threat to the forces of darkness. Truth is a beaming beacon of life.
So what is truth to the various characters in our passage from John? Truth according to the Jews was that Jesus was a threat. Jesus had done amazing things for people all throughout Judea, healing the sick, setting free the captives, feeding the masses, building quite a following of believers. And Jesus had no authority to do such things, at least none given to him by the church and its leaders. Jesus had done those things without the authority of the church, things that the church was specialized in doing. The church healed the sick, set free the captives, fed the masses, and created believers, no one else! Certainly not anyone operating outside of the church! Jesus was a threat to the Jewish people and that was their truth. When Pilate asked them, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” they don’t give him an answer because they knew “being a threat without church authority” wasn’t a viable crime. But that was their truth and they were determined to get Pilate to punish Jesus for being such a threat.
Pilate’s truth was a little more complicated. He was an indifferent arbitrator over a situation that could turn into a threat, or so he wanted to be. But he was not without his own pressure from other Roman leaders who were keeping a close eye on him as somewhat of an incompetent leader himself. Pilate was being watched; his ability to maintain order in his region was being watched. Pilate’s truth was maintaining order at whatever cost. He couldn’t care less whose truth, the Jews’ or Jesus’, was the right truth as long as order was maintained.
Which leaves us with Jesus’ truth, the most complicated truth of them all. After all, Jesus IS the truth…the way…the life. When going back and forth with Pilate on whether he is the King of the Jews, Jesus explains, “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.” Jesus is the voice the truth. Everything he is, everything he says, everything he does is truth. Of course, this doesn’t answer Pilate’s question either. What is truth? Jesus, you say you are the truth, that you testify to the truth, that whoever belongs to truth listens to you, but what is truth?! I guess we can answer that by flipping the statement around. If Jesus is truth, then truth is Jesus. So who is Jesus? Earlier in John’s gospel, we hear Jesus is the Son who was given to the world “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus embodies the love of the Father. Jesus is the key to eternal life. Jesus is love and eternal life. Now go back to the statement…truth is Jesus…truth is love and eternal life. If it is not of love and/or life, then it is not truth, simple as that. Truth is love and life, nothing more, nothing less.
Pilate raises the question and it just lingers there, unanswered and unresolved. The narrative continues with Pilate trying to release Jesus but the Jews were committed to their truth. But was their truth of love and life? Was Pilate’s truth of love and life? Only Jesus is of love and life. He IS the truth, the way, the life. As we go through these remaining weeks of Lent and into Holy Week, let us seek out truth, his truth. There is only truth in love and life. All the rest of it is a lie. Let us rejoice in truth. Let us live truth and share truth with others.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.