Lesson 14: Truth

The View From the TombJohn’s Passion primarily involves two long conversations, one at the Last the Supper (14-18) and the second in Pilate’s chambers (18:28-19:16). Together these make up 6 of his 21 chapters. Obviously, they are important. The first begins with Jesus’ proclaiming, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; the second ends with Pilate asking, “What is truth?” Obviously, John wants us to hear what he has to say about Truth.

In our day, society usually regards truth as an accurate analysis of data or what works to get us what we want. We seldom acknowledge it has anything to do with the good and the beautiful. On the other hand, many Christians think truth is a set of doctrines or laws true believers confess. John offers a radically different understanding. He says truth is found in the person of Jesus and has to do with a way of life found in relationship with him.

John wants us to see when Pilate asks his question, the Truth is standing right in front of him. Pilate has gone to some lengths trying to free Jesus. He asks. “Are you King of the Jews? Why do your people reject you? Why don’t your followers raise an army? Why don’t you appeal to my power?” Jesus replies his kingdom is based on Truth. Cynically Pilate asks, “What is truth?” implying it is whatever the emperor says is true. It has all to do with political and utilitarian implications, just what our modern society claims.

Pilate thinks he is in control. In one sense, he speaks the Truth when he presents Jesus crowned with thorns and wearing a purple robe with the words, “Here is the man” and “Here is your king.” However, he does not get it. He thinks by executing him, he does away with a political enemy of Roman power. He assumes he has destroyed whatever kind of Truth Jesus represents. Jesus is dead, and with him Truth is dead.

Then John makes one of his strange moves that should get our attention. He changes the dates of the Ascension and Pentecost, moving them to Easter evening. It seems he wants to affirm the promises Jesus made in the Last Supper conversation. Jesus had promised he would not abandon us (14:18- 24). He will send a Helper who will continue playing the role he did. This Holy Spirit will dwell among us and in us, guiding us to the Truth (15:13). Indeed, he will be the “Spirit of Truth.” He will remind us of Jesus’ teaching (14:26), but, also, enable us to do even greater works than Jesus did (14:12). This last is the basis for Christians breaking new ground with teachings about slavery, women, and gender.

It seems John changes dates to make clear we are never separated, even for a few days, from Jesus’ Truth. From John’s point of view the Spirit of Truth still lives among and in us. Matthew tries to say the same thing when Jesus promises to be with us always. Paul uses phrases, such as “We share the mind of Christ.” Discerning Truth then depends on having a proper relationship with Jesus and other people. It is not contained in a set of doctrines or laws. The best proof of God is still not a rational argument but a believer with integrity.

Rita’s Easter present was sending me a quote from Clarence W. Hall that captures John’s claim. “If Easter says anything to us today, it says this: You can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there. You can nail it to a cross, wrap it in winding sheets, and shut it up in a tomb, but it will rise!” Of course, John associated “truth” with “love,” so we can always interchange the words and get John’s meaning.

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  1. Rita says:

    Some days it’s hard to even know what Truth is because the media spins almost every fact to its own ends. Truth can be slippery. I remembered as I was reading your thoughts a Paul Newman film I saw years ago, “The Verdict.” There’s a powerful quote near the end of the film. I couldn’t find the exact quote online, but it was something like, “Is that the truth?” “No, but it’s the facts.” I never forgot the meaning of the quote if not the exact words.

    When I looked up the film to see if I could get it “right,” I came across a wonderful dialogue from the film that I think is worth sharing. I think the words will put the story of the film into focus without even seeing it. Frank is a washed-up lawyer who is trying a case against the Diocese who owns the Catholic hospital where a young woman was badly treated and is in a coma. He takes the case of a nurse who was made the fall guy for the doctors. Here it is:

    [the church has offered a check for $210,000 to settle the case]
    Frank Galvin: How did you settle on the amount?
    Bishop Brophy: We thought it was just.
    Frank Galvin: You thought it was just?
    Bishop Brophy: Yes.
    Frank Galvin: Because it struck me, um, how neatly ‘three’ went into this figure: 210,000. That means I would keep seventy.
    Bishop Brophy: That was our insurance company’s recommendation.
    Frank Galvin: Yes, that would be.
    Bishop Brophy: Nothing we can do can make that woman well.
    Frank Galvin: And no one will know the truth.
    Bishop Brophy: What is the truth?
    Frank Galvin: That that poor girl put her trust into the… into the hands of two men who took her life. She’s in a coma. Her life is gone. She has no home, no family. She’s tied to a machine. She has no friends. And the people who should care for her – her doctors… and you and me – have been bought off to look the other way. We’ve been paid to look the other way. I came here to take your money. I brought snapshots to show you so I could get your money. I can’t do it; I can’t take it. ‘Cause if I take the money I’m lost. I’ll just be a… rich ambulance chaser. I can’t do it. I can’t take it.

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