I read a news story last week that is either very funny or very sad. The story was about a company that publishes up-to-the-minute news about national and international current events. The company takes great pride in its contemporary values system. The CEO described the company as fostering a work environment where employees are encouraged to play, interact and think creatively.
The news report mentioned that some employees were seen riding hoverboards, while others spent time playing video games. When asked about the very casual work environment, the CEO mentioned a recent worrisome event. An employee had asked for time off in order to tend to a family matter. As the employee had no vacation time remaining, he was granted paid leave because of the nature of the family issue. Later, the CEO learned that there was no family issue; rather, the employee was just bored with work, and didn’t want to come into the office.
I don’t know if this is funny or sad: an employee of a company that publishes news reports is so dishonest that he can’t tell his supervisor the truth about the workplace. If this employee is so willing to lie to his employer, how would he be able to tell the truth about the news he’s reporting to readers? The truth shouldn’t be an elusive goal, but it appears to be so for some people.
The Passion reading in John’s Gospel contains a few arresting statements. One of them is Pontius Pilate’s question during Jesus’ trial. Pilate remarked to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Pilate’s remark followed Jesus’ statement that his mission was a sacred one rather than a secular one. Just as his kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36), so his mission was about Divine values rather than human values. Jesus said to Pilate, “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.” (John 18:37) This statement occasioned Pilate’s rather cynical retort.
In a way, I feel sorry for Pilate; he was in a no-win situation. Being the Roman Prefect of the province of Judea was not a glamorous job. Pilate made things worse for himself by creating a great deal of ill will among the locals. Eventually, he was called back to Rome because he had become so ineffective as Prefect. At this point in his tenure as Prefect, Pilate seems to have grown weary of the job. He found himself caught between the demands of the Jerusalem religious leadership and his own fears. His cynical question sets the criterion on which all the people involved in Jesus’ arrest and death will be judged.
What is truth? The Sanhedrin’s truth was jealousy. Pilate’s truth was fear. Peter’s truth was self-preservation. Jesus’ truth was God’s will to save the world.
Last night at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper I explained that Jesus’ Last Supper was clear representation of his new teaching that requires one to lay down one’s life for others. There are some qualifiers that are required in order to make sense out of this command. In John’s Passion Narrative Jesus lays down his life as he had prophesied he would. (John 10:17-18) He did so out of obedience to the truth.
Jesus was not motivated by jealousy and self-righteousness as the Sanhedrin were. He was not resigned and cynical as was Pilate. Nor was he concerned with self-preservation as was Peter. When Jesus laid down his life in obedience to the truth, he did so with unwavering confidence in God’s mercy and fidelity. Even though he died an ignominious death, Jesus did not lose his life. On the contrary, he had won God’s approval through his obedient suffering. His death was the ultimate sign of acceptance and approval by God.
We pray and reflect this afternoon on the mystery of the Cross, a sign of contradiction. Surface appearances would tell us that Jesus’ life and ministry ended when he died – that his death was his defeat. The Apostles preached a very different message after his death; they preached the divinely revealed truth that Jesus’ death is victory over sin and death. As I mentioned last night, to be cleansed by Baptism into Jesus’ death is the only means to have a share in Jesus’ glory. In a few moments I will invite all of you to come forward to venerate the Cross – the Processional Cross that we use for Sunday Liturgy. When you come forward keep in mind what you are reverencing: Jesus’ obedience to the truth, and our victory over sin and death.