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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. I recently read a newspaper interview with Richard Dawkins, the well-known British scientist and staunch atheist. In the interview, he said that ‘for some people, truth doesn’t matter’. It’s hard to disagree. But if we live as if truth doesn’t matter then we are fooling ourselves, living in both fear and slavery.

One person for whom truth didn’t matter was Pontius Pilate. He features in today’s Gospel which is one of the most dramatic in the whole of Scripture. The contrast between the two men in the scene could not be greater. Pilate was a man of great power over Jesus at that moment. He had the power to release him or crucify him. He had a whole army and Empire behind him. Jesus on the other hand stood before him as a pitiful figure, a semi-naked man with his flesh torn to shreds after a vicious flogging wearing a crown of thorns in mockery. Jesus had done nothing to deserve this terrible punishment. His only crime was to tell the truth. Unlike Pilate, Jesus had no one to defend him, no throne, no soldiers and no authority except the truth of what he spoke and what he stood for. Yet even now, in the face of great suffering, he was not prepared to compromise on the truth, even if it meant his death. For this he had come into the world ‘to bear witness to the truth’ for ‘all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice’ (Jn. 18:37). For Jesus, truth meant freedom with the strength to endure all he did. In his own words ‘the truth will set you free’ (Jn. 8:32). Pilate on the other hand was not interested in the truth of whether Jesus was innocent or guilty. He wanted to appease the mob and therefore he is controlled by them. He is not free.

And so, despite the fact that Pilate condemned Jesus to death, the scene of the Gospel remains an inspiration to everyone who loves the truth and lives by the truth in the face of violence. When the Lord rose from the tomb on that first Easter Sunday morning, the truth rose with him: the truth of everything he stood for and everything he taught. Pilate could never have imagined that the tortured man before him would lead a movement that would outlive and outstrip the Empire itself. The might of the British Empire could not withstand the truth that Gandhi taught. The might of the Soviet Union could not stand against the truth that human beings and nations must be free. The might of Apartheid in South Africa could not stand against the truth that all people are equal despite the colour of our skin. Truth has always been, and will always be, far stronger than the strongest army. An army or terrorist group can hold sway for a time. But eventually, if it stands in the way of the truth, its power will be broken. Jesus stood in front of Pilate unmoved because he had behind him the greatest power the world has ever known—the power of truth.

For us and for our world, this is a message we need to hear right now, especially at a time when truth has become so subjective and personalised that we are losing a sense of the real. Christ is King over every evil whose power of truth is stronger than Satan’s lies. For us who believe in him, we have been anointed kings at our baptism which means that we too are called to bear witness to the truth like he did. When we live by the truth we help change the world. We can’t change the truth but the truth can change us. Like Jesus, we might have to suffer for the truth but in the end we will be free for the truth will be our strength. Truth might hurt for a little but a lie can hurt forever. The person who lies is not free and always afraid. From the smallest example to the greatest, let us love the truth, speak the truth and live by the truth. For to love the truth is to love Jesus who called himself ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn. 14:6).

‘It is our duty to focus on the truth whatever it may be and not to deceive ourselves by trying to make the truth conform to what keeps us happy’.

Thomas Merton


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