I recall being in the diaconate formation program many years ago and being asked by one of our professors to describe a divine mystery using simple, everyday language. The challenge was to utilize common, familiar terms and concepts to provide clarity and wisdom on a complex and not fully understood idea. The exercise was designed to push us in much the same way that the writers of scripture were pushed, to tell the story of Divine Revelation in a way that an audience could comprehend and find relatable. This is the task of the preacher as well.
And it was Jesus’ task too. It’s no wonder then that he used stories involving mustard seeds, wheat and weeds, lost sheep and a prodigal son. Simple, relatable things. But also profound and life changing concepts.
I recall our instructor telling us at the time that there is only so much the human mind can comprehend. Our capacity to fathom is limited. Divinity, eternity and God’s endless love are not. Therefore, we must assess and study the very words used to describe deeper truths while at the same time, not getting hung up on those words themselves. We were told to always ask: what is the deeper truth here? What am I supposed to understand? What is God telling me? Such is the task of prayer, especially the lectio divina style where we reflect upon the words, hoping to gain some access to the deeper truth.
And so it is with this perspective that we reflect upon Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate at the outset of his Passion. The entire passage is comprised of a back-and-forth exchange regarding the nature of what it means to be a king. From the Gospel:
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.”
It’s as though Pilate and Jesus were talking past each other, tied up in a verbal semantical pretzel, using the same word but each describing something altogether different. Pilate’s sense of ultimate power could be encapsulated in the single term “king”. This was, to him, the highest form of existence and so, he wanted to know if this was who Jesus claimed to be. Jesus was, of course, something else altogether. He was divine, eternal, endless. And this left Pilate wondering precisely what to make of him; he was entrapped in a verbal stalemate with Jesus he could never win.
We are similarly limited and sometimes similarly entrapped. The goal of our faith is to seek insight, to attain a level of understanding and to gain access to that deeper truth. This has implications for how we practice our faith. If we stay at the surface, we are going to struggle to find it.
At the surface…
We can say words to God, sometimes half-heartedly, hoping he hears them.
We understand the commitment that a life of faith demands but push off making changes until… someday.
We fill our days with noise, distractions and become comfortable with the endless bombardment of popular culture.
But at a deeper level…
We say those words, thinking about what they mean, and ask God to listen.
We respond to the call of scripture and our Church, realizing that today is that someday.
We seek silence, try to listen, and actively make time for God in our day-to-day lives.
Ultimately, we can choose to merely skate across the surface or we can look to dive downward and plumb the depths for light, wisdom… and the deeper truth.