At one point in the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he has not spoken on his own authority but has spoken only what the Father told him to say. In the section from John which we have just heard, Jesus says that he was born for one thing: to bear witness to the truth. Bearing witness to the truth, he says, is the meaning of his kingship. What this means is that Jesus is king because he is obeying the Father’s will to proclaim what he has been told.
But what did the Father tell Jesus to say? Jesus calls it the truth. Now Jesus himself is the truth. As he says again in John, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Remember, too, that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The Word of God expresses God. Jesus as Son of God is in person the fullest possible expression of God. And so, for Jesus to bear witness to the truth is to bear witness to himself. In his words and teaching, he is revealing himself to the world at the Father’s command.
“He who is on the side of the truth listens to my voice.” This is what it means to be a subject of the kingdom of Jesus. If his kingship consists of obedience to the Father, our membership of his kingdom consists of obedience to his voice. It is obedience to the truth of Christ that makes us a royal people.
In the line just after the end of today’s Gospel, Pontius Pilate asks a rhetorical question of Jesus, not without a hint of cynicism and even of tragedy. He asks, “the truth? what is that?” It is a question that continues to be asked and will be asked until the end of time. It is only faith in Jesus Christ that answers it. It is only fidelity to that truth which can satisfy both mind and heart.
Another way in which Jesus describes himself as the truth can be found in our second reading. “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, he says. He has the first word and the last word. His word is final. Anything that does not agree with him cannot stand, is not true. Neither he nor his word is an opinion, but only truth, and therefore the measure of everything else as true or false. In fact, the truth of who we are and of what we say and do can only stand or fall in relation to him. If our lives, our words or our actions contradict him, then to that degree we are not subjects of the truth, he is not our king.
The truth of Jesus is not merely about what is right or wrong, true or false. The second reading makes it clear that his truth gives life and salvation. “He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood.” His supreme act of bearing witness to the truth is his crucifixion and death on the Cross. Baptism bathes us in his death and resurrection, in his truth, washing away the falsity of sin and its deceit. His truth literally sets us free. Baptism is the choice of the one who is on the side of truth. To listen to the voice of Jesus and to act on his truth is to go through the dying process of letting go of sin and embracing the freedom of grace.
There is no question that listening to the truth of Christ can be difficult, very difficult indeed. He calls us to renounce ourselves, to pick up our Cross every day and follow him. He calls us to forgive our enemies. He calls us to suffer for the cause of righteousness. He demands that we prefer him not only to ourselves but also to mother, father, son, daughter, husband or wife. So many of the instincts and natural reactions we experience in our daily lives, he calls us to overcome with a virtue and courage which few possess. He asks us to believe that suffering can be redemptive, that dying can be the expression of love, that denying our own will can be true freedom. His claims upon us are absolute, his love for us is eternal, his own living out of our humanity heroic.
And yet, something in us just knows that all of this is what we were made for. Paradoxically, our very resistance to his voice can be precisely because we know he speaks the truth and calls us to share in it and live it as he does. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, something Jesus well knows. And yet the call, the fascination, indeed the demand of his truth, the truth, are all still always there. Our king does not ask of us the impossible. Rather he gives us his own Holy Spirit to empower us to make his truth possible for us to live. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. He is the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete and Advocate who encourages and prompts us. He is the Spirit of hope who helps us keep going, keep trying, keep getting up when we fall. He is the Spirit who convicts us of the deceit and lies that we may carry within so as to liberate us from them with mercy and consolation. The Spirit transformed eleven weak and simple men into lions of apostolic zeal and courage. The Spirit we receive is no different, no less powerful.
I suppose we could, with the crowd, respond to Pilate’s presentation of Jesus as their king with the cry, “Away with him! Crucify him!” I suppose we could do a Peter or even a Judas, who denied knowing him, or be a Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea who believed but were afraid. But whether we were to do this or not, Jesus would be no less our king than he was for the good thief. History is littered with men and women who succumbed to the rejection of Jesus as it is star-studded with the witness of countless martyrs who listened to the voice of Jesus and preferred him to all else. The truth can divide us as much as unite us if we choose to look the other way. It faces us with a fundamental choice which no-one can delegate to someone else. Christ will only be king to those who want him as king.
On this last Sunday of the Church’s year, Jesus calls us to renew the commitment of our baptism as we contemplate his return in glory on the clouds of heaven. May our hearts and wills be moved by a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit to help us take our stand ever more fully beside Jesus, the king of truth and love, of holiness and grace, of justice and peace.