Face to Face with Jesus: A Homily by Deacon Alan Doty

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine, stands face-to-face with the Lord of the universe.

It wasn’t an encounter Pilate was looking forward to.  In fact, he had done all he could to avoid meeting Jesus. He had so much to worry about without the added distraction standing in front of him. Jerusalem was filling up with pilgrims arriving for the Passover feast and that was always a dangerous time for the Roman overlords. There was no possibility of controlling the crowds, and riots were a risk lurking just below the surface, uprisings that would be put down using brutal force. 

Jesus arrives at the meeting exhausted and disheveled, straight from a midnight arrest and a night spent in prison. Nonetheless, and unlike Pilate, Jesus was very much looking forward to this meeting. His love and determination shone in his eyes. For this moment he was born and came into the world – to save Pilate’s soul. He is eager to draw Pilate to his heart and show him the Father.

The interview starts out fairly well. Pilate asks Jesus a question – as if he were a seeker. All the conditions are right for Pilate to find in Jesus the God for whom his heart longs.

Yet, he doesn’t: he is face-to-face with Jesus, speaking with him, but he remains unmoved. In fact, Pilate tries to impose his own will and his own answers by beating Jesus into compliance. When flogging does not work, he sees Jesus as a threat – a threat to his settled way of thinking, a threat to his position of power, a threat to the peace he is imposing on the crowd. He reacts accordingly and sends Jesus to his death.   

Why doesn’t Pilate seize his unique encounter, his time of visitation, with the Lord?  

Jesus told Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” With that sentence, Jesus teaches us all the secret to intimacy with God. Whoever belongs to what is true will be drawn into communion with Christ, will hear and heed God’s ceaseless invitations to follow him more closely.

To Pilate, as to many people then and today, truth is a thing, something provable by science, or mathematic, or logic. Pilate asks Jesus if he is a King. In his mind that statement is a fact, true, or not. To this way of thinking, truth is an object, a body of material that can be possessed. 

If truth is a thing, then how can Jesus tell us to ‘belong to the truth’. Can a person belong to a thing? Pilate has no time for speculations. He sends Jesus away. 

Truth as a thing is not the way that the Gospel understands truth.  We are comfortable with truths we can list and recite. But the Jesus of the Gospels is not a teacher who gives his disciples ‘great truths’ to live by. No, Jesus gives himself; he himself is God’s truth.  In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth is made manifest. (CCC 2465-2466).

Belonging to the truth means living, not according to our way, but instead according to Jesus Christ and God’s word in scripture and revelation.  It means living every day and every moment from the unshakeable conviction that God lives, and that his love is the motive force of human history and the engine of every authentic human life. It means proclaiming the truth of the Gospel in our words and our example. It means that the truths of the Creed are worth defending, even unto death. It means exposing the lies with which society tries to influence us. 

Jesus is the truth that gives meaning to an otherwise pointless world. It gives life a direction; to belong more and more to the truth, to belong to Jesus in this world and the next. Belonging to the truth means accepting that our life in this world is neither true nor complete except to the degree that we conform to Jesus. Belonging to the truth yields the fruit of interior freedom, a peace and strength of soul that only his grace can give us.

It requires humility to be led by truth in the way the Gospels mean it. It requires recognizing a higher authority than oneself, that you are not autonomous, not the master of my universe, not God. Making that act of humility, which frees us from the enfeebling bonds of selfishness, is hard. Pilate, as with all of us, lived a fallen human nature that clings to pride, self-sufficiency, control, and dominance. 

In humility we know that we are broken, that we are weak. But in humility we also know that we are loved by God, and that he calls us to follow him Jesus, belong to the truth, and listen to his voice. 

Pilate stood in the presence of Jesus, stood proudly, and then went another way, his own way. 

What about you? 

In a few minutes) you will stand in the presence of Jesus, present in the Eucharist. Will you seize that moment? Will you recognize your time of visitation with the Lord? For this moment he was born and came into the world – to save your soul.  Will you belong to the truth so to hear his voice?  

As we continue with this today’s solemn celebration of Christ’s everlasting Kingship, we thank him for revealing to us the truth and  ask humbly for the grace to seek the one source of truth, to belong to the truth, every single day of our lives.

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