Truth or Consequences was a television show originally hosted on radio by Ralph Edwards from 1940–1957) and later on television from 1950-1988 with other hosts. On the show, contestants received about two seconds to answer a trivia question correctly before “Beulah the Buzzer” sounded. If the contestant could not complete the “Truth” portion, which was usually an off-the-wall question that no one would be able to answer correctly, there would be “Consequences.” That would usually be a wacky and embarrassing stunt. If you couldn’t identify the truth, you paid the consequences.
So what does this have to do with Christ the King Sunday? In his response to Pilate about his kingdom and how he ruled, Jesus said, “I was born into this world to bear witness to the truth.”
The church established the last Sunday of the church year as Christ the King Sunday. However, because of the text that is chosen from the Gospel of John, I call it Truth Sunday. And as usual, I have a different understanding of the word “truth.”
My meaning of truth comes from the Aramaic word that is translated as “truth” (serara) which is defined as “right and harmonious direction or guidance; that which liberates and opens possibilities, or is strong and vigorous.”
Truth is not about concrete “facts” nor is truth always the same for everyone. When one of my children was eight years old and the other was six years old, the guidance I gave them was not always the same. There’s a lot of difference between what you can let an eight year old do and what you can allow a six year old to do. Of course, the six year old never thinks that’s fair. But that’s a lesson to be learned in itself. Truth is dependent upon each person and context.
It drives some people nuts to be told that truth is not necessarily what is written in concrete (or worse, in black and white in the Bible).
Truth is right and harmonious guidance. If you don’t follow right guidance that is directed toward harmony (and based on the circumstances), then you will suffer the consequences. And those consequences are generally negative. While the consequences of following right guidance leading to harmony are theoretically harmony and peace…more in the long run than in the short run.
Jesus said he was born to bear witness to the right and harmonious way of living. Later, he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus’s example and the way he lived his life was the embodiment of right and harmonious living…truth.
Now that you know the “truth” Jesus might have been trying to show by his life, let me ask you this: what kind of king do you think we should be portraying of him when he comes again? A king on a golden throne with servant angels tending to his needs, with legions of sword-bearing angels singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and herding the unbelievers into the fires of hell as if they are the enemy?
What a travesty the Christian church has made of the image of Jesus’s kingdom and the way in which he will rule the world! A kingship designed from human pride and domination has been assigned to our servant Lord.
Isn’t Jesus the one who said:
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me (agrees with me and my teachings) before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:32-34 NRSV).
To deny Jesus is to disregard, forsake, reject, or not follow the guidance of Jesus. Period. Saying you believe in Jesus with your mouth and then promote killing your enemy is a denial of Christ. The sword he carries is not a weapon for killing, but a teaching that separates the ways of the world from the ways of a God who seeks ultimate unity and harmony in the creation.
Jesus was not popular with the world and he was a thorn in the side of religious leaders. Jesus was subversive to the ways of the world. He didn’t agree with “an eye for an eye” and things like that. That’s why he was killed. Jesus wouldn’t survive the NRA and Wall Street and racists if he lived in the 21st century, either.
Jesus calls us to follow him. To be subversive. To stand up for the poor, the outcasts, the sick, and sinners. And we are to follow him using his ways, not the ways of the world. His right and harmonious ways are turning the other cheek, nonresistance to evil, going an extra mile, giving more to those who take from you. If you aren’t pissing off the rich and wealthy and righteous, you aren’t following Jesus.
The image of Jesus coming as a powerful king with a crown, scepter, and an army of weapon-carrying angels is a denial of everything Jesus came to bear witness to. The only difference between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam centers around the deification of Jesus. Christianity has not shown a better way through following the teachings of Jesus.
This is my re-translation of this week’s text based on my understanding of “truth” and “kingdom.”
33 Pilate then went back into the public judgment hall again and called for Jesus. He said to him, “You are the king of the Jews.”
34 Jesus replied, “Are you saying this because it’s obvious to you, or did others tell you this concerning me?”
35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and chief priests have brought you to me to be put to death. What have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “The way I govern (My kingdom/my rulership) is not through using the methods of this world. If my way of ruling was in the manner of this world, those who follow me would have been fighting so that I might not be handed over by the people. But as it is, I do not rule in this way.”
37 Therefore Pilate said to him, “So you are a king.”
Jesus answered, “You are saying that I am a king. I was born for this, and for this I came into the world: to bear witness to the right and harmonious way of living. Everyone guided in right and harmonious ways is hearing my voice.”
Jesus is still a threat to empires that exist today. The desires of the flesh, pride, power, materialism, lust, greed, self-indulgence, self-importance, comfort, convenience—all of these are empires within us and outside of us. Just like Pilate—all these sinful desires in us are ready to go to war against anyone that threatens them. And Jesus, Christ as King, is the ultimate threat to a power-hungry, greedy world.
Jesus as king doesn’t overcome anyone by force. He enters open hearts by invitation. He’s a king that reigns from a position of service, of unconditional love, and laying down his life for the well-being of others. When Jesus reigns in you, your life and actions will look like his. You will become subversive to the ways of the world. But he will provide you the power of unconditional love (grace) to flow through you to make a difference in the world, and you will be rewarded in and through your service.