I’ve got a brother ten years younger than myself. Our sister was five years older than me. There were things that took place in my family before my brother was born, things that I know about and my sister knew about, knowledge of a shared experiences. But with my parents and my sister gone I am the sole repository of those memories. And, of course the same could be said of each of us and all those who have peopled human history.
Susan and I have been married for forty six years. Books couldn’t hold all the experiences that we’ve shared. Sometimes what she recalls doesn’t always exactly fit my recollection but quite likely, more times than not, she is more correct than me.
The question of Pilate recorded in John 18 has yet to die: “What is truth?” Pilate asked of those who sought to prosecuted Jesus.
Just last week it fell to an ABC White House reporter to eat crow from having said he had “obtained” and “reviewed” emails that proved that the Administration intended to mis-lead the nation about the attack on Americans in Benghazi. If you recall, his story set off a political firestorm. It wasn’t true. After CNN rebutted his allegations the reporter for ABC conceded he had only been told about the emails by a source from the political opposition who claimed to have “reviewed the original documents ….” One journalism professor said of the reporter that he “…has dragged the entire news division at ABC into his self-dug pit. He got played.” So much for truth.
Truth presents huge problems, the biggest one, of course, at least for that ABC reporter, is finding a trustworthy source. In our text for today Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:12-13). The Greek word for Truth is Aleithia. It means unhidden or unforgotten. Soren Kierkegaard said that “The truth is a snare: you cannot have it without being caught. You cannot have the truth in such a way as to catch it, but only in such a way that it catches you.”
One section of John, Jesus, and History, a scholarly book aimed at including the Gospel of John in the “quest for the historical Jesus”(the principal editor being our own Paul Anderson) is entitled: Memory Holds The Key. In the article John Painter supports the long held thought that the Gospel of John was written by the ‘beloved disciple’ when, as an old man, John was living in Ephesus, thus the only Gospel written by an eyewitness. Quoting Craig Blomberg, Painter suggests that in contrast to the other three canonical gospels John weaves his sources together so thoroughly that they are shrouded behind the completed document. Blomberg is further quoted to say that “John (in his Gospel) has taken more sermonic liberties” in his portrayal of Jesus. Painter himself says: “I have come to the conclusion that, even if the author was a disciple of Jesus, he shows great freedom in the interpretation of the tradition.” The point is that by including small nuggets of synoptic material John draws on both historical tradition as well as his own experience.
For the biblical scholar it gets richer still. Painter says that at significant points the Evangelist deals with growth in understanding in relation to the phenomenon of memory. Memory is more complex than we generally think. Does a person’s memory of another person or an event change in the light of later experiences? In Painter’s conclusion he says that it is clear to him that John goes to great lengths to make clear how certain events have transformed the memory of Jesus. For John, the real Jesus is revealed through resurrection, glorification and departure and through the inspiring presence of the Spirit of Truth. And certain elements concerning the historical Jesus, the Jesus of the past, remain essential to his memory, even though the inspired memory of the risen Lord has transformed his understanding.
To add to the complexity it is strongly suggested that the Gospel of John was written over several generations after Jesus’ earthly ministry with more than one hand involved. And since the church was then facing new challenges to which Jesus did not speak, the community needed a theology that was not based solely on the past traditions about Jesus, they needed to have some way of understanding the things that Jesus never told them. And so they develop a theology of the Spirit that opens them to the on-going revelation of God that extends beyond the earthly ministry of Jesus. Shifting the emphasis of that verse from John 12 it reads: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (12: 13).
This perspective present us with a theology that moves us beyond a constricted biblicism. To be “Biblical” implies a dynamic, forever changing theology. To be “biblicist” is to freeze the streams that flow through the Bible and life, to settle for the stagnant air of unbending dogmatism instead of the Wind who blows where the Wind wills (John 3: 8). That Wind is the very Spirit to whom John appeals in today’s reading. To be Biblical in our understanding of our faith requires a willingness to reinterpret the nature of God and God’s relationship to humanity according to our own peculiar historical circumstances under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth.
Earlham School of Religion’s newest mailout told of a group of seminarians going to China. They found that protestant Christianity in China has found it necessary to reinvent itself under a broad umbrella and discarding narrow denominationalism. The church has been about that since the very beginning. Today we hear a lot about new forms the Christian faith is taking within what is called a post Christian age.
If the Greeks were right about the meaning of truth and if Jesus was right about the gift of the Spirit of Truth and its work in our lives we are all the more appreciative of Keirkegaard’s understanding that it isn’t that we go trolling for truth, looking under every rock and critiquing every philosopher or theologian. He said that we don’t grab hold of truth, it grabs us. We can only have it as it snares us and makes of us its captive. Truth isn’t an idea, a notion, an hypothesis or a creed. It is being loving held hostage by Christ’s own spirit and our allowing that Spirit to fill all the empty places in our lives. It scrubs out the residue of our less than inspired behaviors and acquisitions and then replaces in those places of our lives which we’ve conveniently filled with stuff extraneous to living a spirit led life, until we are completely filled by the love of Christ.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.