What is truth? Part 1: Coming home to yourself

The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) read like a religious manifesto for truth-seekers. Those four books in the bible can be summarized by the question: “What is truth?” which Pilate asks rather dismissively at the conclusion of a spirited conversation when Jesus is brought before him to answer to the charges brought against the purported “King of the Jews” (John 18:38).

More to the point, these stories about Jesus life, death and resurrection describe a process for discovering the truth, in three discernable movements.

First, the gospel stories reveal several encounters between Jesus and various individuals, engagements whose primary effect is to recall those individuals back to themselves.

When I meet someone I don’t know, or who appears powerful, or who for whatever reason emanates presence, it is easy for me to lose sight of myself in the encounter. In the presence of greatness, we can easily lose our groundedness and be motivated to appear that which we are not — maybe out of fear, or out of social pressure, or out of trying to please others, etc.

That clearly was Pilate’s problem. He so desperately wanted to please the religious leaders in order to keep a semblance of political power. He evidently went against his own intuition, his own experience of Jesus (“I find no case against him” he confessed later — v.38) in his desperate effort to stay in control. In that weighty exchange, if anything, Jesus invites Pilate to be transparent, to share how it is with him, to utter the truth of his own life: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (v.34)

The first step in discerning truth is to be clear yourself about your motivations — from where you’re coming. When the first two disciples started following Jesus on account of John the Baptist’s public declaration (“Look, here is the Lamb of God!” — John 1:35), Jesus asks them: “What are you looking for?” (v.38). Here, Jesus invites them back into themselves. He doesn’t want them to follow merely, as a parrot would, by repeating what someone else says and do what someone else tells them to. Never mind what other people are saying, what are YOU looking for?

In another encounter of healing, Jesus asks the blind man what he wants (Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41). Why? It goes without saying, right? He wants to see again! But perhaps Jesus asks him this to help him freely name for himself his deepest desires.

In the same way at the beginning of his ministry Jesus confronts the Samaritan woman at the well: While she give him all the ‘right’ answers and doctrinally correct formulations, Jesus goes straight for her heart and invites a true, transparent confession (John 4:1-30).

And when Mary is overcome with grief she does not see Jesus for who he truly is outside the tomb that first Easter morning (John 20:16). She is so distracted by disbelief she thinks he is the gardener. Only when Jesus says her name, “Mary”, does the veil of distraction lift, and she recognizes him and confesses with her own lips the truth of who Jesus is.

We can’t do truth unless we first come home to ourselves. Jesus helps us — even Pilate, in a tense life/death exchange — to articulate for ourselves who we are, what we see, and what we want. It’s so easy to get distracted from ourselves in our noisy, busy world. It’s so easy initially to focus on some external reality upon which to heap blame or praise for all that happens in our lives. Coming home to ourselves is a necessary first step in discovering the truth about God and the world.

Pray for the eyes of your heart to see, hear and know the truth.

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