Reflection: Truth and Dare March 4, 2018
I was writing this sermon when the fall-out from the acquittal of Gerald Stanley was near the top of the newsfeed on many webpages – quickly to be supplanted, sadly, by the shooting of school children in Florida. In case you don’t remember, Stanley was accused of shooting Colten Boushie, a young First Nations man, in the back of the head after Colten had driven on to Stanley’s property looking for help. Stanley thought Boushie was there to steal something, and he says his gun “accidentally” went off. The lack of a murder or even a manslaughter conviction in the case was like a gut punch for many in the First Nations community and their allies right across Canada. Saskatchewan and Manitoba alike have a very bad reputation for racism and discrimination against First Nations people, and having lived there, I know it’s true. Ask my friend Clinton who grew up in Northern Manitoba and who lived in Winnipeg with his German wife Ilka. They finally left the province because they were treated so unfairly there. He will also tell you it still happens here, in Victoria, in BC.
I was not there when Gerald Stanley pulled the trigger. I did not see what happened, nor do I know what evidence was presented by the defence or the prosecution. I don’t know why the jury decided in Stanley’s favour, though I wouldn’t be even the tiniest bit surprised if racism took a large role in the outcome. The thing is, sometimes in a trial, everything is stacked in your favour, and sometimes, it’s all stacked against you.
That brings us to the trial of Jesus – except that’s it’s not really a trial. In the other Gospels, Jesus is brought before the whole Sanhedrin, the whole religious Council, for judgment. In John’s Gospel, it’s just Jesus in front of Annas, the former high priest, father-in-law of the serving high priest. He’s got some police guards around him too. It’s a bit more like a police interrogation than an actual trial. In fact, Jesus had already been tried in absentia by the Sanhedrin after raising Lazarus from the dead. This is when the High Priest Caiaphas rather prophetically declared “Is it not better than one should die for the sake of the nation?” He was talking about a concern that the Romans would react in a typically violent fashion to any unrest among the Jews, and he didn’t want to see his people subjected to a bloody massacre. He felt the death of one man instead of the death of many was worth the price. Instead, Jesus’ death showed a path to new life for many, including many among his own people. Ironically, Caiaphas got it right.
There is another trial going on here too – an even less formal trial, in an even less formal setting. Peter too, is being tried: his loyalty to Jesus and his willingness to testify to the truth he has known is being challenged by a circle of slaves and police. In another example of John’s irony, Peter is in far much less danger than Jesus, for slaves cannot legally testify at a trial. The people questioning him have little or no power.
John has set up a contrast between the innocent one who stands firm in the knowledge of his innocence and refuses to bend the truth he knows, despite the threat of a painful and prolonged death – and the one who denies all knowledge and all association and is therefore guilty of perjury, betrayal and a rejection of the one who gave him life. What makes this contrast even starker is that just a short time ago, Peter was insisting on his own faithfulness. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet because he felt unworthy, but when he understood what it was about, he wanted his head and his hands washed too! When people came to arrest Jesus, he fought and struck off a slave’s ear in the battle. Where has that devout friend gone?
John makes it clear that Peter now stands with the enemy, around the fire, in a place of comfort, while Jesus is being interrogated and struck inside the building. Peter lies, rejecting the truth, while Jesus dares to speak truth to power.
Do you remember playing the game “Truth or Dare” when you were younger? It’s especially popular with pre-teens and teens it seems. I can remember when my niece and her friends were all playing it. A person would have to choose between answering any question truthfully, or daring some action suggested by their questioner. Not surprisingly, most teens chose the dare rather than the truth, as at that age it would be excruciatingly embarrassing to admit you had a crush on someone, or that you were afraid of the dark, or that you still liked to play with Barbies. So a teen might find themselves challenged to walk a fence, jump off a cliff into a lake, or go up to a person of the opposite sex and kiss them on the cheek – that one would be nasty!
I wonder what “Truth or Dare” might look like for a Christian adult today? I think it would likely not be Truth or Dare, but Truth and Dare. It takes daring, courage, to claim the truth that you know. How many of us have downplayed our religious convictions because we knew they were unpopular? How many of us have failed to do or say what we know in our hearts is right because it was inconvenient or distasteful?
Joyce Rupp gives a simple example of this in her book “Out of the Ordinary”. She talks about being at a long meeting and just wanting to get home at the end of it. She knew there was also a woman at the meeting who did not have a car and would be looking for a ride home, but she lived far out of Joyce’s way. So Joyce rushed out of the room, pretending she didn’t see the woman. Later, on reflection, Joyce realised she had betrayed her commitment to compassion – a commitment that came directly from her commitment as a disciple of Jesus.
Lent is a time of repentance, of renewing discipleship, of firming up our commitment to Christ. In ancient times, it was a time spent by those about to be baptised, instructing them in what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus, and strengthening and mentoring them for that task. In those days, it could very well mean one’s death – which it still can, in many countries around the world.
As we consider the contrast between Jesus and Peter, we might ask ourselves, where do we deny or betray Jesus? Where have we turned our backs on discipleship or failed to speak what we trust to be life-giving and transforming? As we reflect on this, let us remember the end of Peter’s story in John’s Gospel.
It ends with a breakfast by a lake, when Jesus draws Peter aside, and asks him whether Peter loves him. Three times Peter replies,” Yes Lord, you know I do.” And Jesus commands him, “Feed my sheep”. Regardless of how we might fall short in our discipleship, by the power of Christ’s resurrection we are given the courage to speak truth and dare to live it. May this be so for each of us.
Reflection: Truth and Dare March 4, 2018