We have a national obsession with telling the truth. Tom Cruise wanted the truth from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Those guys on CSI are always digging for the truth. Simon Cowell has made a gajillion dollars from telling the truth, the sad, rude truth. We say that we want the truth and we love it when others get to hear it, but let’s face it: when we ourselves hear the truth – the whole of the truth – about ourselves or those we love, we don’t always want what we asked for.
Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Blessed John told us that he had seen glory of the only begotten of the Father, he had see this Jesus, the one who is “full of grace and truth.” But most of the time we would settle for just the way, the life, and the grace. Sound’s nicer, doesn’t it? Did you expect it to sound so much nicer? I didn’t, and maybe I wish it didn’t, but it does. But Jesus is the Truth, John knew it and so do we, and we get a ladle full of it in the Gospel lesson we just heard.
In a way, what we are hearing is the ultimate answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people. Almost every prophet, along with David in the Psalms, lamented the fact that the evil sometimes prosper and the good are sometimes kept low. I would say that the ancient Jews looked for a system of instant punishment for the wicked, except that to say that might make it seem like we don’t look for the same thing. We do look for instant or at least quickly cooked punishment; Pat Robertson is real good at thinking he found it, and we like to talk about karma being quite the you know what. But Jesus began to clear it up for us a little bit, and therein lies the truth we don’t wish to hear.
St. Luke tells us that some men came to Jesus and ask about the Galileans “whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices”. It’s a gruesome reference and nobody has ever managed to trace the incident and confirm it, but it seems that Jesus knew about it, that it was common knowledge. More probable than not, those sacrificed were Galilean insurgents who were put to death for opposing Rome. And those eighteen who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them, another disaster in their recent memory, what about those poor people? Certainly someone there was must have been an infamous sinner to bring on such disaster. But no, Jesus told them. Jesus replies that they had not done anything; those who had been killed were not greater sinners than anyone else. Then comes the shocker.
“No, I tell you,” said Jesus, answering that those victims were not great sinners, “but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” You will all perish as they did. You will all die when a building falls down on your head, suddenly and unprepared. You will all be slaughtered and your blood mingled with the blood of bulls and the wine. You will all perish, unless you repent.
Now I don’t know about the rest of you men, and maybe your wives or other loved ones might be more forthcoming about this, but I’m not huge on asking directions. I’m not big on being told I am going the wrong way, and I’m certainly not happy about being told that I need to examine my entire life, top to bottom and back to front, that I have to look inside and outside, do every test in the book, and determine, not even determine, expect, expect to find that I need to turn around all together. I don’t want to find out that everything I thought was clean is actually dirty, that what I thought was growing is actually dead, that what I thought was the right path is in reality the path leading straight to death. I don’t want to hear any more than you do or any more than the crowd gathered that day around Jesus that unless I repent, I will perish, and not just perish, but perish in the worst possible way.
This is a truth we don’t want to hear, even if we already know it deep down. This is the truth that we wish Jesus wasn’t so quick to point out, it’s the truth that got the Truth hung on a cross. But thankfully Jesus is also the Way and the Life, He is the Resurrection and the means of grace, He offers to us the truth of death but also the truth and the means of life. Unless you repent, Jesus said, repent. The most basic meaning of repent is to turn around, to actively change your mind and your ways, to turn your face from whatever you were looking at and look instead to Jesus. You are here in this place, so you are more than halfway to repentance. God will forgive you of your sins if only you ask, if only you come and confess your sins, if only you listen to His comfortable words. So take the time to examine yourselves, take the time to read the Exhortation on page 316 of the Prayer Book, take the time acknowledge what it is in your lives that needs to be clean, and then draw near with faith, make your humble confession to Almighty God, and know and feel that He does indeed pardon and deliver you, that He does indeed strengthen you in all goodness, and that He will indeed bring you unto life, true life, life everlasting. That’s the truth.