Blogging the Bible 295 – John 18-19 – What is truth?

I wonder why Pilate went into politics.
Perhaps he thought he could do some good, bringing the clarity of Roman government to the benighted provinces. Perhaps it was that he liked the idea of life and death power over little people. He probably never thought he’d be remembered throughout history as the place-holder for authority who was too afraid of the consequences to do what he knew was right – to set Jesus free.

Pilate’s problem was that he was so used to the practical realities, the deal-making and careful compromises that are needed from politicians and those in government, that he was at sea in the black and white world of Jerusalem. Before this moment, he’d already been forced to back down from what he must have felt were reasonable demands (placing a Roman standard in the Temple, and using some of the Temple tax to build an aqueduct to bring clean water into the city). He was defeated by his lack of understanding of people who were willing to die for their beliefs rather than compromise, and by religious leaders who were perfectly happy to let others die on a point of principle so long as they won.

So when Pilate sneers ‘What is Truth?’ – while Truth, the underlying Truth of the world as we saw in John 1, stands before him with bound hands – he shows how far he is from understanding the conflict in which he’s playing a part. To him, truth is negotiable, along with everything else, to keep things running smoothly.

So as he sees the disproportionate hatred the priests have for Jesus, and as Jesus refuses to be reasonable and give Pilate a way out, Pilate’s sophisticated shell begins to crack, until the educated Roman stands in fear of the Galilean carpenter in front of him – not the other way round.

No water can wash away Pilate’s guilt – though God can, and perhaps has. Pilate was keen to tell Jesus that he had the authority to let him go free – and he did have that authority, though he was afraid to use it. He sent the one truly innocent man in all human history to a death Pilate knew he did not deserve. And in doing so he demonstrated that the official power of a governor can do little in the face of those who live by the absolutes of another ruler.

As Jesus stands before Pilate in this scene, he is completely secure in who he is and in what he is called to do. He knows his Father’s love for him, though on the cross he will lose the experience of that. He is truth.

How sure am I of who I am, within God’s love? Without that core knowledge, I will always be at the mercy of those who can use diplomacy, persuasion or force to fit me into their plans. With that sure knowledge, and the help of God, I can stand.

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