What is truth? — Pilate in three takes (take 1)

As mentioned in the footnote of the last Bible study (“Don’t just read it”), the following post is the first of three that explores different interpretations of Pilate’s question “What is truth.” Using the ancient Jewish practice of Midrash (in which scholars took the stories of scripture and expanded them to reach new insight and new interpretive depth), I have attempted to get into Pilate’s mind on that fateful day before the Passover. Think of these posts as “takes”  — a film director asking an actor for different emotions over the course of shooting a scene. These different angles help us interpret Pilate’s conversation with Jesus in John 18:33-38. After reading all three takes, decide which you think is persuasive. If none is, write your own!

Take One

I beckon for Jesus to follow me inside, and then I ask him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He won’t give a straight answer, but I can tell he believes what he says. There is no hint of fever or delusion, just honesty. But I have learned from long experience in the politics of the Empire that there is a difference between honesty and truth. “So you are a king?” I press.

He looks at me for a moment, considering his response. “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.”

I lean back on my desk and cross my arms. This man really, honestly believes what he is saying. There is no trace of deception in his face. He is playing the game and playing it well; his answers are both vague and cryptic, but neither seditious nor treasonous. I try to keep my face from betraying my internal skepticism, but I am sure my right eyebrow rises.

“What is truth?” I say. I say it flatly, so that there is barely a question mark at the end of the phrase. I can’t help but add a bit of sneer to my raised eyebrow. What a ludicrous proposition. He thinks he is on a mission to testify—to die—for the truth?

The truth? I don’t even think there is such a thing as truth, let alone a singular, definite truth. There are too many lies masquerading as truths out there. There is a chain of command in this Empire and that means there is a chain of lies, as well. I can lie to everyone beneath me, and they have to believe what I say is truth. And I am sure my superiors lie to me, but what am I to do? Consider it truth: that’s all I can do. Yes, there are too many lies out there masquerading as truths to think I can nail down any one single Truth.

My skepticism leaks out of my raised eyebrow and my sneering mouth. He knows I couldn’t care less for his truth. I just need to make sure I still have a job tomorrow. Truth. Lies. These things don’t matter. Keeping my position and my head: those are my concerns.

Still, nothing he has said makes him guilty. I stand up straight, look Jesus in the eye for a long moment, and then sweep past him on my way to talk to the locals again.

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