Note: I wrote this homily as the final homiletic assignment during my diaconal formation. For some reason, even though it was not a weekend designated for the deacons to preach, I thought that I should have this ready just in case. I have no idea why since it's not common for our priests to ask us to preach that the spur of the moment. But sure enough, after the first mass I served with our parochial vicar, he told (not asked) me to preach for the next mass. To my knowledge, he did not know that I had anything ready. So I thank the Holy Spirit on two accounts: for inspiring me to write this in the first place, and for prompting me to take it this morning.
Daniel 7:13–14; Revelation 1: 5–8; John 18:33b–37
“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.”
These words Jesus speaks to Pontius Pilate. Pilate has the earthly authority to send Jesus to His death, but Jesus doesn’t seem concerned that He may pay for his words with His life. He simply speaks the truth.
I think it's interesting how they block out our readings, what they choose to include and not include, and I'm fascinated by Pilate’s response to Jesus—three simple words: “What is truth?” Quod est veritas?
What is truth?
Did Pilate want to know the truth? I don’t think he could have cared less. Pilate wanted to assess the facts of the matter, to determine whether this Jesus of Nazareth was a threat, a criminal, a nuisance, or if these Jewish leaders were manipulating the facts for their own reasons. He didn’t care about truth. He wanted facts. But instead he got the truth.
We get a lot of facts in our daily lives, a lot of data. The news is full of facts, and the pundits all along the political spectrum are happy to provide their interpretations and opinions of what the facts reveal. More often than not, the facts are simply used to further their own agendas. The same facts are used to explain why we need high taxes and more government as well as why we need to eliminate taxes and reduce the government. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of every issue based on the facts, and it just takes a clever person to bend the facts to their will.
Facts are useful things. Facts can sometimes tell us a lot about what is, but they don’t tell us much about what ought to be. They don’t tell us the truth. But the truth is sometimes not very useful and can often be downright inconvenient.
You can measure things and produce a fact. You can weigh things and produce a fact. You can record sounds and videos of events and see a sequence of facts. The facts are used by many who argue against the existence of God because facts can be verified scientifically. Many apologists for secularism and atheism try to tell us that morality can exist apart from a belief in God simply by assessing these empirical facts. But anyone who knows how the world works can see that we don’t know what we ought to do based solely on facts.
There must be a standard to measure against to determine what we ought to do. Facts can only tell us what is. They cannot lead us to a moral life and they do not, on their own, tell us what is the truth.
The facts are used to justify just about any grave evil in our world:
· The reason we why can’t feed the hungry
· The reason why we can’t protect the unborn
· The reason why we have to allow same-sex marriage
· The reason why our Catholic hospitals have to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients
· The reason why have to go to war yet again
But what is truth?
The truth is something that doesn’t come from this world. The truth predates our empirical studies and rational philosophy. The truth was established long before modern physicists hammered out the theory of quantum mechanics, long before our constitution was hammered together by a bunch of fallible men after a nasty civil rebellion, long before a misguided priest hammered a list of 95 theses on the church door of the Wittenburg Castle, long before a Roman emperor accepted Christ and hammered a stake in the heart of paganism, and long before Roman soldiers hammered spikes through the hands and feet of an innocent man and before the procurator named Pontius Pilate sent that man to his death after asking him a simple question: What is truth?
The truth was there in the beginning: the Word with God, the Word Who is God. And He became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus came to testify to the Truth because He was the only one who could truly witness to Himself, the Truth enfleshed.
You see, Pilate didn’t recognize the Truth as He stood there staring Him in the face. He didn’t recognize the difference between what is and what ought to be. In fact, Pilate was a slave to the “is”—to the powers of the world and to the politics of his situation. He knew that this man Jesus was innocent—a fact. He knew that the Jews would riot and possibly start a rebellion—a fact. And he knew the fact that a certain emperor in Rome would not want to hear that the procurator in Jerusalem was unable to keep the peace. So Pilate crucified the Truth to serve his master.
But the truth is not some thing. The truth is some body. The Truth is Jesus Christ. The Truth is the Word, the Logos, the immediate eternal thought and image of the Father. The Truth is here with us in His sacred word, and in a few minutes He will be with us again in His body, blood, soul, and divinity.
That is the truth.
How many of us live with this truth in mind? How many of us treat this truth as the absolute driving factor in our everyday plans and decisions? How many of us live as if one day we will have to face the Truth?
Daniel recognized that there would come a day to face the Truth, when one like a Son of Man would come with everlasting dominion and eternal kingship. The Book of Daniel points forward like all of Old Testament scripture to the revelation of Christ the King. Roughly 300 years later, the beloved Apostle John predicted the same return of the Son, the firstborn of the dead who freed us from our sins by His blood. John was the first to write that word logos in reference to Jesus, a word taken from the Greek philosophers who knew that there must be one transcendent Truth, even if they didn’t know who or what it was—that unknown god that the Athenians had memorialized on the Areopagus (air-ee-o-pah-gus) as mentioned in Acts 17:23. John looked the Truth in the face, dropped his fishing nets, and gave his entire life to Him.
We sometimes treat our personal opinions as if they are the truth, but then we turn around and claim, “Well what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me,” as if truth can be one thing and its diametric opposite at the same time. And we live these contradictions as well, claiming the right to pick and choose what we believe to be the truth.
· Whether life begins at conception
· Whether it’s okay to have sex outside of marriage
· Whether it’s okay to deny basic needs to someone on the street
· Whether it’s okay to prevent refugees feeling religious persecution from crossing our borders
But our personal opinions are not the standard for our conduct. We have as our standard a God-Man, the Son of Man, the king not of this world, the Truth incarnate. Our standard is not the factual brutishness of this world, but the fact that the Truth came to die for us—the fact that our king humbled Himself to be one of us; the fact that He desires mercy and not sacrifice, that He says we will be blessed when we are persecuted, that He says we should love our enemies and not just those who will love us back.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our liturgical year. While we profess with our lips that Jesus Christ is King, the real question is whether we recognize the Truth and make it king in our lives—that we seek the Truth in all that we do, and we not only profess the Truth but make it the guiding factor in our actions, that we preach that Truth, the Gospel, in our words and deeds.
Will we be ready to face the truth? Do we belong to the Truth and listen to His voice?