In one of the pivotal moments in the Passion narrative in John’s Gospel, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” in response to Jesus’ statement that anyone who belongs to the truth listens to His voice. For Pilate truth was elusive, an enigma; therefore, as one addicted to power, he made it something he could manipulate to suit his needs. He had no real interest in listening to any voice but his own, so when Truth actually stood before him, he was blind and deaf to it. Jesus had made it clear that truth is eternal, and not subject to manipulation or the whims of philosophies or ideologies. Pilate was not concerned with the spiritual, but he was somewhat fascinated, enough so as to initially profess that he found no guilt in Jesus. But no matter how thought-provoking Pilate may have found Jesus to be, he was easily distracted from real truth by his lust for power, evidenced by his capitulation to the crowd that sought the death of Jesus. Today as then, what people accept as truth can be and is just as easily manipulated. Therefore, it is important that we look to the source of truth, the one truth, which permeates the entirety of the Scriptures and comes to culmination in our Lord Jesus Christ. That is truth.
Today, as throughout history, our society seems to have difficulty with recognizing truth. If someone asked “What is truth?” the response might depend on who you asked, as if truth is subjective, based on opinion. We have grown increasingly polarized by what we think is truth in just about every arena imaginable, somehow becoming so ingrained in our beliefs that there is little openness, nor the ability to engage in respectful discourse. Most frightening, however, is the current tendency to believe that we have ‘our own truth’ which can be ‘legitimately’ different from someone else’s truth. This is a fallacy! There is only one Truth from which all other aspects of truth derive, and this truth is eternal: it is God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John connected Jesus with truth throughout his gospel, recording numerous instances in which Jesus stated that He and the Father are One, (John 10:30, for example), emphasizing that to know Him is to know the Father, and thus, His authority is that of the Father. The most dramatic example of this oneness was seen when Jesus was approached by the soldiers who sought to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and He declared “I AM.” That is, Jesus is I AM WHO AM, the Eternal One. * John also addressed our tendency to reject truth when it is difficult, challenging, or does not suit our needs, as seen in his account of the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71) when just about everyone, including disciples, found Jesus’ teaching too hard and left Him. As disappointing as that was, Jesus continued to preach to the small group that remained faithful to Him, stating at the culmination of His public ministry: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus did not water down the truth to win disciples back because even difficult aspects of truth do not change.
A major theme in the Gospel of John concerns the opposition between belief and unbelief, truth and untruth, light and dark, and life and death. Belief means accepting Jesus’ teaching and acting upon it accordingly. In other words, the truth we profess is deeper than simply accepting Jesus with faith; truth is faith in action doing the work of mercy, compassion, and love. Unbelief is to oppose the work of God; it is not necessarily atheism, but rather it is a lukewarm or ‘go with what is currently accepted’ response to faith. Therefore, all that is made to substitute for the gospel based on worldly teaching is untruth. Belief is connected to life, especially eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Anything which opposes God and His word seeks our harm and can lead to spiritual death. Finally, life is associated with light. To be ‘enlightened’ is about growing in holiness; when we accept Truth we begin to be filled with the light of God which will overcome the darkness. (John 1:5) In short, living in truth is about aligning our mind, heart, and will with the life of God as revealed in Jesus.
No matter how much someone seems to speak with authority, Jesus and the gospel must be the filter through which we discern. If teaching is inconsistent with the gospel, then it cannot be truth. Jesus said to beware of false prophets and that we will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20). Similarly, St. Paul told us to look for the Fruits of the Spirit, (Gal 5:22-23) which are signs that someone or something is aligned with God. And it is essential that when the values of the world are persistent and persuasive, that we do not worry or give in to fear. (Matthew 6:25-34) Remember, Jesus said that the Truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). No matter what anyone else professes to be ‘truth,’ if we align ourselves to the gospel, and thus to Jesus, we will remain safe from all spiritual harm while continuing to grow in holiness. So what is truth? It is nothing less than our Lord Jesus Christ who rose in victory so that we might have eternal life with Him.
May we remember at all times that we belong to the Truth as we seek to live within the world, but not of it! May we continuously pray for the grace of discernment! And may we evangelize by setting an example for others, courageously living in the Truth! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The declaration by Jesus was so powerful that the soldiers involuntarily ‘turned and fell to the ground.’ (John 18:6)
1. My photo, a hummingbird in my backyard. Hummingbirds can be elusive, but if we really look, they are a balance of flitting around and sitting still for relatively long periods of time. But like truth, we have to spend time in order to learn.
2. My photo, the Trinity, found on the arch of a pillar in a church in Ireland. I love this because Jesus is so very obviously one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
3. Icon, San Jose Sombra del Padre by Fr. William Hart McNichols. In this icon the child Jesus resembles both God the Father and Joseph, His foster father. You can find this at fineartamerica.com/featured/san-jose-sombra-del-padre-161-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Quilt, Pentecost. Yes, this is a quilt! I wish I knew who did this magnificent work. I love it because the light is overcoming the dark.
5. Painting, The Basket of Apples by Paul Cezanne (1895) Let us feast on the Fruits of the Spirit!
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Heart Speaks to Heart