Many of the most well known lines in U.S. cinema come from courtroom scenes. In one particular scene, after a long line of increasingly intense questioning, the attorney exclaims, “I want the truth!” To which the witness exclaims even more forcefully, “You can’t handle the truth!”
One way to look at Lent is as a search for truth – about God’s love for us, about our sinfulness, about how much we are willing to let God surprise us, about our level of trust in our relationship with God. But as today’s Gospel illustrates, many times we have a difficult time handling the truth about ourselves as revealed by Jesus.
Jeremiah previews the tension in today’s Gospel quite well: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!” But God hears us in our distress, as the Psalm proclaims: “O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.” After hearing these Scriptures, the opening of the Gospel passage is not nearly as stunning as it might have otherwise been: “The Jews (again) picked up rocks to stone Jesus.”
This seems to be a big moment of truth for Jesus, but it’s really a big moment of truth for those who would follow him, including us. As much as he ever does in John’s Gospel, Jesus comes right out and says “I am the Son of God.” We would think this would satisfy those Jews who, just before this scene, were begging him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” But instead of belief, they greet Jesus’s words with rage, preferring to handle stones than to handle the truth.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with the truth about him alone. Instead, he does not “deem equality with God something to be grasped at,” as one of Paul’s letters later puts it. No, he instead gives us the truth about our humanity, about ourselves.
Since he’s speaking to a legalistic crowd, Jesus addresses them this way:
1) Scripture says those who receive the Word of God can be called gods and “offspring of the Most High.” (Psalm 82:6).
2) Scripture cannot be ignored.
3) It follows that the Jewish people and religious leaders are gods since they profess to know and practice the Word of God.
4) Jesus is no more blaspheming by saying he is the Son of God than the Scribes and Pharisees are blaspheming by saying they know the Hebrew Scriptures.
Instead of Jesus making himself God, as he is being accused, it’s really the Jews who are making themselves God by refusing to accept in their heart what the Creator says about the created. Rejecting one truth leads directly to rejecting the other.
The great struggle of Lent for us is not so much to accept the truth of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah who died for us, but to accept what He says about us – that we are children of God, loved and blessed by a living God who constantly wants to be part of our lives, who wants a real relationship with us. The Jews in today’s Gospel could not handle their own truth, and so they couldn’t accept Jesus’s truth.
We are on the verge of Holy Week, the climax of all of Jesus’s moments of truth. Jesus today invites us to enter into our own clarity about who we are and, by accepting that truth, to transform the way we treat ourselves and others. Our struggle is to live in and with the truth of who we are and what we are called to do because of that truth.
Along with our truth-searching during Lent, we, like the Jews in
today’s Gospel, also confront those inner voices that tell
us we can’t handle the truth that God wants to give us. We’re
asked to examine the stones we all too readily pick up to silence
our truth — not so that we can feel paralyzing guilt, but
so that with God’s grace, we can begin to free ourselves of
them. It’s not an easy path, but it is one to which we are
called to be faithful.
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