Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Meaning Making (John 18:37-38a)

       Pilate Said, "So you're a King?
       Jesus replied, "You say I'm a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice."
       "Truth? What is truth?" asked Pilate.
John 18:37-38a

This is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Roman Procurator of Palestine during the trial which will send Jesus to the cross. The Gospel of John gathers up several of it's threads here. Jesus is from outside this world and has come into it. Jesus bears witness to God (referred to in this passage as "the truth"), and every who responds to Jesus is in fact responding to God.

But when I read this interchange as a queer person, other themes seem to rush forward, especially Pilate's question, "What is truth?" No longer do we perceive truth to be eternal as the writer of John did. Now days truth is much more contextualized as an understanding which arises within a particular social location and is open up to critique by the experience of those who live in other settings. I wrestle with this more fully in my exploration of the "truth" of Jesus as Christ in the post entitled A Queer-Centric Christology.

What is of interest for me in this dialogue between "Rome" and "God," as John would have us see it, is their struggle to make meaning with each other. 

John, as all Gospels are want to do, makes Pilate an innocent bystander to the death of Jesus, even though execution by crucifixion was a Roman prerogative. Much like certain detractors want to paint themselves as innocent of queer bashing by pointing to the bible and the "queer-hating God" who they naively believe stands behind it. Of course our own experience is that we are "born this way." Or to be more theological - God creates us queer.

We and our detractors find ourselves like Jesus and Pilate, two opponents locked in debate. One speaks of truth, the other critiques the truth. My problem is that I don't know which is which. Is Jesus critiquing the truth of Rome? Is Pilate critiquing the truth of Jesus? Is it a mutual critique? Both of them are struggling with how to make meaning of this interaction from their own social context. Their failure to be in conversation and to move beyond debate will prove disastrous, costing an innocent victim his life. 

The same can be said for the present standoff between anti-gay factions and pro-gay dissenters. Already too many innocent people have lost their lives. Too many innocent families have been torn apart. Too many innocent communities have been disrupted. 

Meaning making is a communal act where we come together with our separate truths. Yet, instead of being in debate, we engage each other in deep listening. From this listening we begin to discern the wisdom of each other and, in that wisdom, allow a sense of what is true to organically emerge; always aware that this sense is at best partial and never fully complete. 

John's Gospel wants us to see Jesus as the truth. Yet, when I read this passage and see only debate, I sense a deeper invitation to enter into meaning making so that innocent ones do not wind up crucified.

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