by Sue Collins
(Based on John 18:33-38)
Phew! We are privy to a most amazing conversation! What a message Jesus is bringing!
But, it is a message which is incomprehensible to Pilate.
Let’s see what we can take from this conversation between The Lord Jesus, who is Truth, and Pilate the sceptic who asks, “What is truth?”
Pontius Pilate is portrayed as a cynical vacillating politician. He recognises that Jesus has not committed any criminal act; but he seems to acknowledge, within himself, that there is something attractive and real about this Jesus – he doesn’t want to condemn him to death.
But as Governor of Judea, he stands at a crossroads: he is far more concerned about his own well-being and safety. He is aware of the dangerous power the Jewish religious leaders carry, and he is deeply concerned about their threat to accuse him of disloyalty to the Emperor. (To put it bluntly, Pilate’s own life is in danger unless he supports the Jewish leaders and hands Jesus over.)
Pilate’s deep and tragic dilemma is shown by the way he approaches the Jews at the end of this interrogation. He declares Jesus innocent, offers to set him free, and yet makes what can only have been a provocative reference to him as “The King of the Jews”.
There is a lot of detail we don’t know but the theological points come through precisely and clearly. The real King of Men confronts the rulers who would try him. This encounter cannot be read without realising how profoundly the roles of judge and prisoner have been reversed.
Jesus says, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” And here, in this statement, lies a deeper truth. The claim distinguishes his rule from those various forms of power that mark most earthly institutions: where, all through time, including this time we live in, domination, violence and economic exploitation are common, and are perhaps openly justified as necessary weapons of maintaining power.
But Jesus’s power comes from a different source. He wants to talk about TRUTH – an utterly strange topic to Pilate, and to most imperial figures.
Pilate operates in a carefully maintained world of illusion. And the presence of Jesus, whose mission is to strip away those illusions, points to what is really true, and poses an enormous threat.
In contrast, our human knowledge of ‘truth’ is conditioned by the world we live in. By habits of self-protection, by egotistical struggles for superiority and power, our circumstances often alter or colour our understanding of the truth we know and live by. As we look around this world today we are aware of the danger that is engendered by any claiming of possession of the truth. We put ourselves in a position of having to defend, to guard and protect that truth. We promote and impose that truth on others and lines are drawn and walls are built. Conversations become reduced to monologues of rhetoric, relationships break down into isolation or domination, then violence arises through words or actions which wound the human soul.
In our living, in our practising of life, in our faith and our relationships, we find that claiming to be the sole possessor of the truth is never as simple as we want it to be, or as we try to make it.
Pilate wanted a straight answer from Jesus.
Jesus knows that truth is never as absolute as we might assert it to be, and never as exclusive as we sometimes claim it to be. He knows that truth is more than a fact. It is more than an answer – or an experience – it cannot be possessed.
Rather, it is a Life to be Lived!
The truth to which Jesus testifies is the Good News for all ages and all times. The wonderful truth, that the God who is beyond the circumstances of this world is ever present in the circumstances of this world.
This is the world Jesus came into, to tell us about that truth, to show us what it looks like in human life, and to teach us how to be part of, and how to belong to, that truth.
To evade this truth is the tragedy of Pilate! And, evading this truth is the tragedy which continues down through time.
All glory be to God who sent us ‘Christ the King’.
Acknowledgement to authors/works used in this piece:
- John for Everyone, Tom Wright
- Interrupting the silence: the truth does not belong to us, WordPress.com
- The Gospel of John: Life through believing, Dr. Alfred Martin
- St John, John Marsh.