Today’s reading for study: John 18
Today we read Pilate’s famous statement, “What is truth?” It is an important statement. Pilate is the governor of Judea, the ruler who is responsible for thousands of people’s lives, yet to him truth is fungible. The statement of Pilate comes immediately after Jesus has aligned himself with the side of truth. Here is the exchange:
Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" Jn 18:37-38
This short exchange between the earthly power and the heavenly power can and is one of the most analyzed and dissected passages from the New Testament. Our modern culture of pervasive relativism has devalued truth advocating that ‘what is true for you may not be true for me’. We, of course, know the larger context. We know that Jesus has identified himself as, “the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” Thus, Jesus is not testifying to the idea of truth, but rather he is truth himself. Pilate stands in stark contrast. He has achieved all that the earthly world has to offer – money and power – yet he is unwilling to put his authority behind the truth. In some ways, Pilate is the most tragic of all figures as he seems to recognize that there is something different about Jesus. He knows that Jesus is innocent and makes an attempt to get Jesus’ accusers to change course. Yet he ultimately refuses to risk any of his material or political well-being to prevent the coming miscarriage of justice. In fact, ultimately he contributes to it. How many politicians do we see among us in our own time that make this same calculus regularly?
There is one important aspect of Pilate’s question that is often overlooked … the Answer. The answer isn't given in the text. However, we know the answer. The answer to the question, “What is truth?” is, “Jesus is truth.” Many people speak of having a “personal relationship with Jesus”. However, what is a personal relationship with anyone that is not based on truth? In particular, what is a personal relationship with truth himself if it is not based on truth?
That is why the questions of theology we have discussed this year are so important. To have a deeper relationship with the Lord, we must have a deeper relationship with the truth. Thus, the correct answers to theological questions matter … and matter a lot. One cannot truly know Jesus if they do not know the truth. Should we baptize babies? How do works fit into salvation? Is the Pope the successor of Peter? These are not just human questions of peripheral importance. These questions and ones like them are fundamental to our relationship with Jesus because they get at the truth itself and thus are the way in which our relationship with Jesus deepens and grows. Could you have a true relationship with your spouse if you knew nothing of their family, their history, their values and their traditions? Obviously, the more you know about your spouse, the more intimate your relationship becomes. That is why the Lord left us a Church, which Paul says is the pillar and bulwark of truth. That is why Jesus infused into the Church the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth. The Church is God’s way of continuing and protecting the truth. It is how He reveals it to us an intimate way. The Church is how he makes the truth, free from error, accessible to every generation.
Tomorrow: John 19:1-22