Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Politics and Truth

We are in the middle of the most significant week for Christians around the world. Holy or Passion Week, runs from Palm Sunday, marking the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; and Easter Sunday, which marks His resurrection. Between those two Sundays lie betrayal, arrest, torture, humiliation, the excruciating pain of crucifixion, the despair of rejection and finally death. As Christians we believe that Jesus, the Christ – the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of God – died for our sins and rose again on the third day in triumph over sin and death.

The season of Lent and especially Holy Week tends to be the busiest time for those who serve God in the Church. There are extra services, special prayer meetings and gatherings as Christians use this time to strengthen and renew their spiritual life. This Holy Week, the Dudley Circuit has been focusing on the characters around the cross. On Monday night we reflected on the materialism of Judas, last night we examined the role of Caiaphas – the High Priest, tomorrow in what will be my third service for the day, we will reflect on the denial of Christ by Peter, on Good Friday as we meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we will reflect on those who gambled for His garment. On Easter Sunday those of us from Dudley and Wesley Churches in Suva who can wake up literally at the crack of dawn will join in a special Sunrise worship at Suva Point. All are welcome to attend the Holy Week services tonight and tomorrow night at 7pm and on Friday at 9am and the Easter Sunday Sunrise Service at Suva Point beginning at 6am.

Among the themes of betrayal, greed, persecution, suffering and redemption, today’s “character around the cross” and theme focus on “Pilate: Truth and Politics”.

In his book, “Characters around the Cross” Tom Houston writes about Pilate:
“His character was generally regarded as coarse, tactless and very obstinate. These are not dissimilar to the characteristics you find in people who are thrust into positions of authority which exceed their natural ability.”

Of course Pilate did some good things, building an aqueduct to bring water into the city. However he chose to pay for it with part of the Temple tax. This caused a riot and he sent his own people in plain clothes, with clubs and daggers, and many were killed in the stampede. The story of Pilate and Jesus is the story of a man desperate to hold onto his power and before him, the Saviour who is the exact opposite in nature. It makes the words of Philippians 2: 6-8 even more meaningful. Houston comments, “There you have two people: Pilate with the rank to which he never should have risen and Jesus with the rank to which he should never have descended.

The issue of truth and politics resonates two thousand years later and thousands of kilometres away from Palestine/Israel. In Pilate we can see the characteristics of many of those who struggle to maintain or attain power in our nation.

In light of the intimidation and veiled and overt threats made against those who have committed to speak truth to the unjust power structures that shape our nation, we recall that in response to the Jesus’ statement that he had come to speak about the truth, Pilate responded, “What is truth?” It seems that this is the same question that the Pilates of Fiji ask today.

Hannah Arendt writes that the politics of the lie we experience today day is very different than the traditional political lie. No longer is the lie a necessity in diplomacy and statecraft to protect secrets or intentions that had never been made public or could not be made public. The modern political lie deals not at all with secrets but what is generally known. According to Arendt, “All these lies, whether their authors know it or not, harbour an element of violence; organized lying always tends to destroy whatever it has decided to negate, although only totalitarian governments have consciously adopted lying as a first step to murder.”

Today it is not only the political lie we have to contend with but also that issues of security and public order may be used obstruct the process of truth-telling.

The American theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes: “In order to expose the small as well as the big lies a community must exist that has learned to speak truthfully to one another. That community, moreover, must know that to speak truthfully to one another requires the time granted through the work of forgiveness. Such patient timefulness is a gift from the God the community believes has given us all the time we need to care for the words we speak to one another. Any politics absent such a people quite literally is doomed to live lies that are the breeding ground of violence.”

Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

May the rest of your Holy Week be blessed with love, light, peace and courage to live as truthful community.

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