Do you ever feel like you are one person here and another person over there? Do you sometimes change who you are and how you present yourself depending on where you and who you are with? I suspect we all do.
In some settings and with some people there is integrity and alignment between who I say I am, my words and actions, and the values and truths that govern my life. Everything lines up. I’m honest, whole, and real. I’m comfortable in my own skin. But in other settings and with other people I change. I get scared or doubt myself and the real me doesn’t show up. Who I am on the outside doesn’t match who I am on the inside. My yes is not yes and my no is not no (Matthew 5:37). My words and actions, or more often my silence and passivity, contradict the values I claim to hold. I betray my own integrity. I lose myself. Maybe you know what that’s like.
I think being truly ourselves is one of the hardest things we do these days, and getting harder. Don’t you sometimes struggle to be yourself and have authenticity and integrity regardless of where you are, who you’re with, or what is happening? I think that struggle is at the heart of Jesus’ conversation with Pilate in today’s gospel (John 18:33-37, Christ the King Sunday). I think Jesus struggled and wrestled with his authenticity and integrity just like we do.
I think that’s what was happening during his forty days in the wilderness. He was wrestling with his identity, what he would do, and the truth to which he would testify. Who am I? What am I about? What values guide my life? What are the truths to which I bear witness? Maybe the real temptation of the wilderness is to be other than who we really are. That temptation, however, is not limited to the wilderness. It’s the temptation that meets us wherever we go.
Identity, action, and truth are the three questions at the heart of today’s conversation between Pilate and Jesus. And they won’t get finalized there. They’re always in process. They’re never ending questions. They’re the questions that will haunt Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and cause him to “be distressed and agitated” and “deeply grieved” (Mark 14:32-34).
I want to use those questions and the conversation between Pilate and Jesus as a lens through which to reflect on our lives.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks. It’s like asking, “Who are you?” Pilate wants a yes or no answer, a definition. He wants information. Jesus knows that it’s not a simple question answered by yes or no, our name, the work we do, the roles we fill, our birthplace, where we live, or who we’re related to. Jesus deepens and changes the direction of Pilate’s question. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” It’s as if he is asking, “Who’s directing your life? Is it you or someone or something else?”
Who is it for you? Who or what directs your life today? Is it Wall Street, the Republicans, the Democrats, your work or family, your reputation, your anger or grief, voices or wounds from the past? Is it the gospel of Christ and values or qualities you find expressed there?
Whatever directs our life also identifies and defines us. It tells us who we are and are not. Who or what is directing your life today? Are you who you want to be? Do you like who you are today? Might there be more to you than who you’ve become? What could you do to narrow that gap?
“What have you done?” Pilate asks and Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus moves that question from the outside to the inside. It’s as if Jesus is saying your can’t understand what I’ve done apart from the values I hold. For Jesus the kingdom represents God’s ultimate values, God’s desires and best hopes for the world, you, and me.
Our actions and words reveal the values we hold and the values we hold are expressed in what we do and say. Our outside and our inside are always in relationship, sometimes through alignment and other times through contradiction.
What have you done? Look at what you are doing in your life today. Listen to what you are saying or posting on social media. Consider what you’ve said and done the past year. What values are being revealed, affirmed, or contradicted? What do they have to do with the gospel? Is that who you want to be and how you want to live? And if it’s not, what will you do about it?
Pilate concludes, “So you are a king?” to which Jesus says, “You say that I am a king. 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.”
Jesus is once again deflecting and redirecting Pilate’s question. It’s as if Jesus is saying to Pilate, “Yeah, whatever. You still don’t get it. It’s not about a title, it’s about truth.” And for Jesus truth is not a fact, a concept, or a proposition. Truth is a way of being. It’s something to be done not believed in.
To make truth a belief is too easy. I can believe the truth of love but am I loving you, my neighbor, my enemy? I can believe the truth of forgiveness but what does that matter if I don’t forgive? I can believe the truth of welcoming the stranger and still close my doors and heart to the migrant and refugee. I can believe the truth of a thousand different things and never do a one of them. And if I’m not doing the truth it doesn’t much matter what I say I believe.
Jesus testified to the truth by doing the truth; by loving, forgiving, welcoming, healing, feeding. What about you and me? What is the truth in your life today? What truth are we doing? What truth is still waiting to be done by you and me?
Jesus never let his identity, action, or truth doing be determined by where he was or who he was with. Instead he brought his identity, action, and truth doing to every place he went, every person he met, and every circumstance he faced. Who he was here is who he was over there. That’s how I want to live, don’t you?
Our struggle for authenticity and integrity is the struggle to reclaim ourselves. It’s the way of healing and wholeness, and it’s always a work in process. Every place we go, every person we meet, every circumstance we face hold before us questions of our authenticity and integrity.
- Who do I say that I am? and
- Am I really who I say I am?
I wonder what it would take today for you and me to answer that second question, “Yes, more than I was yesterday,” and live just a bit more comfortably in our own skin.