The Protection of the Truth
I pulled into a parking lot yesterday. Only one space available. The owner of the Lexus apparently figured that his car was worthy not only of its space, but also of about 10 inches worth in the next space over—not surprisingly, the only space open in the lot.
What am I going to do? My kid’s got drum lessons. So, I pull my admittedly anti-earth-friendly Dodge Ram pickup into the extremely cramped but only open space, leaving an impossibly small gap between our two vehicles.
I say “impossibly small,” by which I mean it appeared impossibly small to me. It seemed doable, however, to the Lexus-owner, who appeared as I put the truck in park, and told his pre-teen son to get in the back seat.
The young boy did as he as told; he pulled the car door open, and surprise! He cracked the rear fender of my truck. I’m sitting in the driver seat watching all this. In response, the father says—not, “Careful buddy! Watch out for the truck.” He doesn’t look up at me sitting in the driver’s seat observing the whole thing with great interest and say, “Sorry about that! You know how kids are.” Nothing like that.
Instead, he yells over the top of the car roof, “Watch out for the guitar!”
Then, without ever once looking at me, he gets in the car and drives off.
And I thought, “You know, silence can be a form of lying, a way of avoiding having to take responsibility for your actions. You can stand by while injustice is perpetrated without saying anything for fear of ”getting into it.“ And though you never say a word, by failing to own your life, it’s possible to commit a sin against the truth.”
When you’re a kid, they tell you not to lie. Honesty is always the best policy. That’s what they tell you, isn’t it?
When you get older and you start reading the New York Times, they modify the wording a bit: “The coverup is always worse than the crime.” It all means pretty much the same thing, though.
Life is always a lot easier if you tell the truth.
Except it’s not always easier, is it? It’s way more difficult to tell the truth. It’s easier to fire up the Lexus and take off.
Honesty is always the best policy—unless you don’t get caught.
The coverup is always worse than the crime … that is, unless nobody ever finds out about the plumbers and the Watergate Hotel, or about Rielle Hunter and her baby—then lying looks like the most effective strategy.
So, here’s today’s moral lesson from Uncle Derek: Keep quiet. And if you can’t keep quiet, lie. Lie your rear end off … unless it looks like you’re about to get nailed. Then, by all means, sing like a canary. Roll over. Drop dime. Tell the truth.
Isn’t that what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel? Life is tough. If you get the chance, make it easier on yourself. Life is difficult enough. Following Jesus should be “user-friendly.” You shouldn’t have to put up with any more than is absolutely necessary. And, if anything arises that threatens to get your world tied up in knots—don’t worry, Jesus’ll fix it.
That’s pretty much the gist of it, isn’t it?
No? I can see the disapproval in your faces. Am I not getting this right? I should really read this stuff more carefully before Sunday morning.
All right, then. If I’m headed down the wrong track, let’s go back and see if we can get pointed in the right direction.
What’s going on in our passage for this morning?
The scene begins all the way back in chapter 13. Jesus and the disciples are gathered together. It’s Thursday night, the eve of his coming violent death at the hands of the Roman authorities. He’s washed his disciples feet, predicted his betrayal at the hands of one of his trusted lieutenants and a series of heartbreaking denials by one of the others.
Then, he starts talking about going away to a place the disciples can’t follow.
“What? You’re leaving?”
Things on the political front are pretty well stirred up. Something’s getting ready to happen. Everybody can feel it. Whatever it is is in the air.
Jesus has made all the wrong people mad, and the whole Judean population knows it’s getting ready to hit the fan.
You can imagine the disciples are pretty well freaked out by now. Their world’s about to implode, and Jesus is talking about bugging out.
“Who’s going to stay with us?”
“Don’t worry. I’m sending along somebody to look after you.”
Skittish. You can see it their eyes. “Come on, Jesus. Throw us a bone here. We’re feeling extremely exposed here. Can’t you offer us some assurance of protection?”
In our Gospel for this morning Jesus turns his eyes toward heaven and starts praying: “God, so here we are. You sent me here for this moment. Glorify me so that I may glorify you. You’ve given me some friends, Lord, and I showed them who you really are. So, I’m praying for them. Protect them. I’ve protected them since I’ve been here, but now I’m heading out, so you’re going to have to look out for them. Really, we kind of owe it to them, since everybody hates them now because of me.”
The disciples are doing well with this prayer so far.
“It’s tough out there, keep an eye on them when I leave.”
Good stuff. The disciples are kind of peeking, looking at one another, nodding their heads: “See, I told you he wouldn’t leave us high and dry. God’s going to look out for us.”
Relief. They were sure they were going to be left holding the bag, but it looks like Jesus is going to take care of them. Pressure’s lightening.
“As long as there’s a back-up plan, we should be good.”
Jesus keeps praying. He’s being realistic: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
“Ok. Fine. We’ve got to stay here, but we’ve got some protection. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.”
But then Jesus makes a mess of things.
What’s Jesus plan? What are the amazing forces unleashed to protect Jesus’ followers from the evil they will encounter?
It’s got to be something good, right? Maybe an invisibility cloak, a long sword with maximum hit points, some kind of escape portal when things get tough. Something.
But what does Jesus ask for? Truth.
That’s it? Really? Sanctify them in truth? That’s the plan? The truth is supposed to protect them?
And I can understand that. I go to God, anxious, afraid … and I’m looking for God to do something big—if not “take me out of the world,” then at least more than what Jesus prays for.
If not “take me out of the world,” then at least jigger the world so it’s not such a threat.
Fix the world, Lord. That’s what we need. It’s too dangerous as things stand now. Life is getting too uncertain.
But instead, Jesus’ answer to the impending danger his disciples face is to ask that they be made holy in the truth.
What does that even mean? Sanctify them in truth?
In my experience the truth can get you into a lot of hot water. Tell people the truth and you’re setting yourself up for a great deal of animosity from people who are more than satisfied with the lies they embrace.
But Jesus doesn’t say, “God, things are fixin’ to get hairy for my friends here, so please help them to speak honestly”—although, of course, he expects that too. He prays that his followers will be sanctified in truth.
But if Jesus isn’t just saying, “Make sure to tell the truth no matter what,” then what is he saying?
I think Jesus prays that his disciples will be sanctified in truth, not as a way of “taking them out of the world,” but as a way of embracing the world in which they live—not the world they imagine God should surely want if God were paying attention to the way things are currently situated. The disciples are looking for a world where everything turns out well for the good guys, a world where it doesn’t cost anything to follow Jesus.
According to Jesus, however, this world is the only one there is—and God wants to bless it, not the one we think is worth blessing. This one … in all its messiness and violence and pettiness, in all of its craven sneaking around and brazen wantonness.
“But how is that going to protect Jesus’ followers? How is embracing the truth going to help, when what really appears necessary is a heart transplant?”
If you spend much time around people in recovery, you’ll eventually hear someone say, “I went through hell, but even if given a chance, I wouldn’t change it.”
“What? If you could go back and change your life you wouldn’t do it—even though it’s caused you and so many others inexpressible pain? Why not?”
“I could never be who I am without being who I was.”
Did you hear that? That’s called owning your life. It’s called the truth. And once you’ve been through the fire of truth, there’s nothing left to fear. If you can own your life, if you can tell yourself the truth about who you are, you need not be afraid—you’ve already confronted that which can harm you.
My first reaction is to want Jesus to pray for it to be easy. I want to him to protect me from the world by installing some kind of force field, some heat shield around me that won’t allow the slings and arrows to touch me.
But he doesn’t do that. He prays not that there be a protective wall around me to guard against the damage life can cause, but that I can endure the damage, that I can embrace the truth that life is full of fear and horror.
Implicit in his prayer Jesus promises not that we will be protected from the truth of an often hostile and scary world, but that the truth will protect us from being undone by that world. It is the crazy, paradoxical notion that we are protected by our vulnerability.
Growing up in Michigan, apparently unlike some folks in the south, I learned to drive in the snow. I had to. If you didn’t know how to drive in the snow where I’m from, you’d have to sit in your house watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island for about 5 months out of the year.
Anyway, they teach a few things about driving in the snow that are absolutely counter-intuitve—like if you start to skid, don’t hit the brakes.
“Are you crazy? Brakes, if you didn’t know, are those contraptions they put on modern motor vehicles as an aid to stopping. If you don’t put on the brakes, you can’t stop.”
I know it sounds crazy, but hitting the brakes when you’re skidding in the snow is about the absolute worst thing you can do.
Here’s another one: If your car starts to skid, not only should you not hit the brakes, you should steer into the skid. If you’re losing control of the car and it’s skidding to the right, you should turn your steering wheel to the right.
I know. Crazy ain’t it? I have neither the time nor the intellectual wattage necessary to explain why it’s true: leaning into a skid feels like the absolute worst thing you can do—but it can save your life. As someone who’s driven thousands of miles in the snow, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.
“Jesus, the truth exposes us. We want some protection.”
And Jesus says, “Being exposed by the truth is the greatest protection you have. Lean into it. As someone who laid down his life in the name of truth, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.”
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