19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (Read the whole passage)
We are coming to the half way point of our Lenten pilgrimage. We entered into the wilderness two weeks ago, and we will have two more weeks to go after this. But this year, as we have been using the Narrative Lectionary and the Gospel of John, we have been hearing different stories than the usual ones. We began in the wilderness of grief and loss with the story of Lazarus. We then jumped forward to a moment familiar to us in Holy Week, Jesus washing the disciples feet. This week, we hear a story of Peter and Jesus again… yet not as they interact with one another, but as they are contrasted.
As we continue our wilderness journey today, we are thrown forward again. This time we hear a story from Good Friday, a nighttime story of the chaos between Maundy Thursday and the cross. And it can be an odd moment for us to consider in the middle of Lent. Yes, we know that Holy Week and passion are place that we are eventually headed, but the Lenten wilderness is still very much before us. And Lent isn’t quite the intense chaos of Good Friday. Instead, it is slower, quieter, toned back place. And so again, we hear this story with new, Lenten ears.
After Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, only a few hours after washing the feet of the disciples and sharing in the Last Supper, he is brought to the high priest Annas. While Jesus is questioned in the court of the high priest, Peter is outside in the courtyard with the common folk around the fire. And each is questioned, Peter and Jesus, about their identity and relationship to the message that they have been proclaiming together for three years.
As Jesus responds, he does so grounded and firm in the things that he has been preaching and teaching. He asks for the wrong that he is accused of to be pointed out to him. But as he is struck by a solider, it becomes clear that he is in the middle of a game of power. A game where truth is a moving target, a game of politics and manipulation, a game of self-interest and control.
The temple authorities are not expecting Jesus to stand firm. They are expecting Peter instead. Peter plays the game. They know that when most people are faced with he power of the temple, they will recant and deny their heresy… even if they aren’t heretics.
The high priests want Jesus gone, but they also want to take away the power of his message. They don’t want a martyr, they want a disgraced prophet who took everything he said back before he was put to death. They want Jesus to grovel and to admit that he was just seeking power too.
And so, Jesus’ trial is just a game, a sham. Jesus is doomed from the beginning because the temple authorities don’t care about the truth… or at least the truth isn’t their main concern until Jesus starts speaking it.
They want Jesus to do what Peter does. When faced with accusations of being one of Jesus’ followers, Peter denies even knowing the teacher, master and friend that he has been following. He chooses to save his own skin, rather than stand for what he believes.
But instead, Jesus doesn’t play the game.
We know this game well. It is the game that plays out on the news, in parliamentary chambers or capitol hill, in board rooms of fortune 500 companies and on twitter. But is also played in PTA meetings, church committees, between neighbours and in families.
It is the game where truth and honesty are moving targets and information is controlled, but information is power. Truth is dolled out in small bits by those on the top, because when it comes out too much at a time it often spells the end of power, it embarrasses and shames.
But here is the most insidious thing about this game of the moving target of truth that we play. Often, we don’t even realize it. Sure there are some out there who know the extent of their manipulations, and who are only seeking power. But so often we aren’t even aware of the game. We are instead trying to the right thing, we are attempting to be faithful, yet as we seek to do the right thing at all costs, we end up doing the wrong thing.
And it might be only in this Lenten wilderness that we are in that the truth our game playing is finally revealed.
A the church gathers together week after week for worship, we begin by confessing our sins. It is a moment in community that sets us apart from much of the world. As we confess, we speak truths about ourselves that the game of power and the moving target of truth would never allow. We admit that we have done wrong, that we have failed to do right and that the truth is not in us. Our confession is very much a lenten wilderness moment, a moment when the truth is finally revealed about us.
If we listen closely to Jesus’ words today, we notice that he too gives a confession. But his is different than ours. Jesus says:
I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.
If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong.
Jesus speaks things that sound almost opposite to our confession of sin. Jesus confesses the truth.
As Jesus is in the middle of this stormy game of human sin and the moving target of truth, does something that neither Peter nor the rest of us can do.
He stakes a claim and tethers himself to the ground. Instead of the truth being a moving target, Jesus roots it in place.
And all of a sudden the game that is being played looses some of its power. The temple authorities cannot undermine Jesus. They cannot destroy his credibility, they cannot brush his teaching under the carpet.
Jesus is standing firm in his message.
In his message of the Kingdom of God coming near.
In his message of God’s love for creation, for humanity, for us.
Even at the height of the game… Jesus is still preaching about God’s mercy and forgiveness by demanding this errors be revealed.
It is a similar thing Jesus does here week after week. As we all blow in from the stormy chaotic world, where the game of power and the moving target of truth is constantly being played, the very first thing that Jesus does for us is root us. Stake us to the ground in confession.
We confess our sins, we admit our faults and failings. And the game is banished from us for a least a moment.
And then along with our confession, comes absolution. The promise of God’s mercy and forgiveness given to us. Mercy that holds us in place. That lets us breathe and live and let go.
It might feel uncomfortable for us to be so honest. Every week, we might feel like we are wandering into the lenten wilderness when we confess our sin and the games of power are left at the door. But God’s forgiveness is what we need and what we are given.
Jesus roots us in God’s love and all of a sudden the game of the moving target of truth doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matters because human power means nothing next to God’s love.
The truth that Jesus proclaims, that Jesus confesses changes everything, changes us. And the vulnerable, honest, revealing wilderness that we have entered into becomes a place where God is also revealed to us.
The truth is proclaimed today, but it won’t be until Good Friday and the empty tomb that the temple authorities, that the mobs and crowds, that Peter and the fearful disciples will discover that it isn’t just Jesus teaching that cannot be undone. And with that truth revealed, Jesus will deal the other issue of his trial – his condemnation to death
Soon God will show us that life itself cannot be undone, and that the power of death means nothing next to God’s love and new life promise to us.