What is Truth?

This morning we are faced with what appears to be two conflicting truths when Pilot asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. To this Jesus answers in a bit of a riddle, neither admitting nor denying the allegation and then hinting at a royal reality that is beyond the realm of the Roman Empire. Again, let us listen to this famous exchange:
Pilate asks him, . . . . Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answers, ‘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?’
Despite this exchange, Pilate is left scratching his head and asking if Jesus admitted to being the King of the Jews. On the one hand the answer is no, Jesus never admits to being or claiming to be the rightful King of the Jews and therefore all of Palestine. But on the other hand, Jesus does. But he does so in a way that separates the temporal question that Pilate asks from the celestial reality that Jesus so nimbly refers. Jesus, as the Son of God is the king of all the heavens and the earth and is therefore the King of the Jews, the Gentiles and all who inhabit creation as well. 
The issue between Jesus and Pilate has little do with sovereignty, but more to do with authority. “What is truth?” Pilate asks in the end. What, he is asking, defines authority. For Pilate, authority is derived from power. In this case, it is the the power that is granted by Caesar and supported by legions of soldiers. For Jesus, authority is granted by God and has nothing to do with power, earthly soldiers, or even the amassing of great wealth. In fact, as we look at the life of Jesus, his authority is more about the giving away of power and control. When the disciples essentially argue over who should be second to Jesus, Jesus instructs, the first shall be last, and any who wish to follow him must be willing to pick up their cross. At the beginning of the Last Supper, Jesus provides final instruction by taking on the lowliest job among them and washes the feet of the disciples. In the end, Christ’s ultimate lesson to the world on sovereignty takes place on the cross when he offers his forgiveness as he is gives his last ounce of life to the world and to each of us. 
The juxtaposition between Pilate and Jesus is a study of contrast and truth. For Pilate, power and authority came with large palaces, robes of state, a crown of gold and a throne, the seat of temporal power. For Jesus, power and authority came with no abode, bloodied robes, a crown of thorns and the cross as his throne and seat of authority. Pilate’s truth was about courtiers and the justice of the Roman Empire. Christ’s truth is about compassion for the poor, Godly justice, and the offering of a right and whole relationship with God.    
Today, we celebrate the kingdom in which Christ is King, acknowledging that we live somewhere between the kingdom of Jesus and the empire in which Pilate ruled Palestine. The dichotomy between the kingdoms of God and Caesar continues to exist. In recent weeks, we have been challenged to grapple with what is truth and to whom our allegiance lie as the Western world is again pummeled into fear due to terrorism.  
What is truth? Or better yet, what is the truth when it comes to our understanding of Islam? Is it truly the peaceful religion that the moderate Imams speak of when denouncing the actions of Isis. Or is Isis its very truth as it wages what it considers a holy war on everyone except those who hold to their narrow understanding of the Quran? What is truth? Or what is the truth when it comes to the thousands, possibly millions of refugees who seek asylum from their war torn countries? Are they really people of peace, fleeing persecution and the dangers of war and drug cartels? Or are they budding terrorists seeking access to perform their villainous work on American soil?
Sadly, all the scenarios I have mentioned contain undeniable truth to them as we grapple with the complex realities of modern life. The difference is, one is born of hope while the other is born of fear. In light of the recent events in Beruit, Paris, Mali and Syria, It is easy to hold onto the truth of fear. This truth allows us to personify our fears. It justifies our anger and our need to project our innate fears on all that is different from ourselves. While living in the darkness of fear can help us feel in control, in time, it can destroy us emotionally and debilitate our ability to forgive, and most of all, our ability to trust. When we are willing to take the risk and live in the light of hope, fear is not eliminated but kept in perspective. The truth of hope tells us there is more light, more good people than bad and we find the courage to risk being compassionate over the fears of the possibilities. 
In recent weeks, the reality in which we live has never been more obvious than on social media. Meme after meme, article after article has argued for one truth over the other. All are passionate. Some speak of compassion, while others speak of prudence and prevention. All contain truth as they beckon the reader to choose their version of the truth.  
In recent days, I have had an exchange with a friend of mine from high school. Although we were raised in the same town and taught by the same teachers, our lives are very different. In a recent exchange I told Scott that I would prefer to risk living in the hope of the Gospel as opposed to living in the fear of the world. My sense is, Scott has chosen the opposite. But who can blame him. As proud as he is of his son who has chosen a career in the military, I suspect he lives in fear that the day will come when two soldiers and an Army chaplain will come to knock on his door, that his son’s sacrifice to our country will be in vain. It is clear, that like all of us, he fears another terrorist attack on American soil. Sadly, like so many, he has understandably allowed these fears to become core of his reality, his understanding of the world.
As a people of God, we are called to live in sharp contrast to our neighbors. As so many wait in fear, we are called to wait in hope, to live in the context of the resurrection and the confidence that through the cross the bonds of death have been destroyed. As the world continues to wait and watch for continued violence in the weeks to come we are called to spend the coming weeks watching and waiting for light, hope and peace. While the world waits for more destruction, despair and fear. What we watch for is new life, a child born in a barn because his parents were too lowly to be offered a room. This child, who we will celebrate in a few week’s time with fanfare and elaborate ritual is the king we celebrate today, and the world we wait for is the kingdom Jesus speaks of as truth before Pilate. 
 In many ways, you and I are the Pilates of this world, constantly confronted by parallel truths. Whether it is the truths of fear and hope, or where the authority of our lives may lie, we, like Pilate, find ourselves asking “what is truth?” as we find ourselves torn between the reign of Caesar and the reality of our fears or the reign of Christ and the reality of our hope. The first offers us a moment of control over the darkness, the other offers us an eternity of peace. 
In the book of Deuteronomy, the writer ends God’s giving of the Law with the words, “On this day I give you blessing and curse, life and death, choose life.” When we choose the truth of Jesus, we choose blessing and life. So I invite you to choose life, the truth of God, the kingdom for which we wait . . and the hope that we have chosen to celebrate today.

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