What Is Truth?

John 18:33-37

Lectionary 25

Christ the King Sunday

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.  Every time I hear this question, I think of Jack Nicholson on the witness stand, in the movie A Few Good Men, emphatically saying, “You want the truth?  You can’t handle the truth.” That’s true for all of at one time or another.

What is truth?  Do you know?  For certain? Webster’s defines it as that which is in accordance with fact.  But what we are certain is true today may be found not to be tomorrow.  There was a time when It was a fact that the smallest particle was an atom.  Then we discovered that an atom was made up of protons, neutron and electrons.  Then we found that protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller particles called quarks and leptons.  Just when we were certain we had the truth, there is evidence for an even smaller particle called a techni-quark.

What is truth?  Remember when it was true that eggs were not good for you?  And now they are? It wasn’t the chickens that changed. We were told that if we put our names and phone numbers on the “Do Not Call” list that telemarketers would not call us anymore.  Is that true?  Remember when we learned that cats are selfless animals put on earth to serve us?  Oh, wait,…nevermind!

News and politics provide their own witness to the truth that truth changes.  As my husband often says, “Never let facts get in the way of a good story,” right?  What is truth?  Do you know? For certain? Is truth relative, or absolute?  Even if we think we never lie, we do.  We do it sometimes to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, as in, “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?”  Or when someone askes how we are, and we respond, “Fine.” A recent survey tells us that people lie an average of 1.65 times a day.[1]  We can take this as true only if the participants were not lying about their lying.

Sometimes, our truth isn’t the whole truth.  It is a matter of perspective, like the two blind people touching an elephant.  The one who had a hold of the elephant’s trunk said an elephant is like a snake.  The one who tried to wrap her arms around the leg said an elephant is like a big tree. To them, each told the truth, but it was their truth.

Pilate wasn’t sure about truth.  The account that precipitated his question began with Judas, who brought soldiers and police from the chief priests, and Pharisees, too.  They came with lanterns and torches and weapons [John 18:2-3]. Arrested and bound, Jesus was taken to the high priest who questioned him about his teaching.  From there, he was taken to Pilate’s headquarters.  Pilate told the religious leaders to try him under their law.  They didn’t want to do that, they said, because, by their law, they could not put him to death. That was their ultimate goal. Pilate began his interrogation, “Are you king of the Jews?” His question ended up turning from “Who are you?” to “What have you done?”

Listen again to this part of their conversation:

“Jesus 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.’ 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?’” Jesus answered with his whole life and death.

We, like Pilate, live in a world of half-truths and contradicting ones.  In our postmodern world, truth is both questioned, and questionable.  “My whole reason for coming into the world is to bear witness to the Truth,” Jesus said. Jesus did not say that religion or doctrines were the truth, although there is truth in them.  Jesus said heis the truth.  “What is truth?” is the wrong question.  The question is “Who is truth?”

Jesus’ love for those who couldn’t pay their own way with money, those who could not return favors, and those who could not carry their own weight put him at odds with established norms.  When Jesus was sentenced to death on the cross, it was because he refused to align himself with those who did not use their power to benefit those in need.  His insistence that the hungry be fed, the sick healed, and the widows and orphans cared for threatened the political leaders of the Roman empire, the temple aristocracy, and the business interests of the Herodians. So, they conspired to kill him. Jesus looked into their hearts, and found corruption, greed and self-interest.  He found all those things that threaten to destroy life.  He found sin, and was killed for it.

The religious leaders of that time are not the only ones who sinned.  We are sinners, too.  We only need to look at the consumerism of this weekend of Black Friday and Cyber-Monday sales to confirm that.  We shop until we drop to honor the baby Jesus’ birth.  Much of our excess stuff ends up in landfills.  Some of it ends up in the stomachs of God’s precious creation, like the sperm whale who washed up on the shores of Indonesia.  Thirteen pounds of ingested plastic cups and plastic bags caused his death.  Not to mention, we lie 1.65 times a day.  Our own truth is that we cannot help ourselves.  We are sinners, and we cannot save ourselves.

The good news is that Jesus refused to make the truth of God’s love and forgiveness expendable, or relative, even for those who would drive nails through his flesh, or throw trash in our waters, or put Jesus’ birth second to our celebrating it by shopping.

God ‘s love, made flesh and hung on the cross, buried and resurrected, is the only truth that saves us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus is the incarnated truth of God’s unconditional and redemptive love.  Jesus is pure love that through grace alone brings forgiveness and life. This is the Truth that was and is and is yet to come.

~ Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin


About Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.