The moment of truth
It happens all the time - we go along life’s way but every so often a brutal moment occurs. We become seriously ill, or our business collapses and we go bankrupt, or we lose our job which, we thought, was secure for years yet, or we are mugged for money or beaten up for kicks, or we have a car crash. An event that totally disrupts life for us.
These are moments of truth - moments when the basic realities in our lives come to the fore. The silly ephemeral things slide away and we suddenly confront reality. We see our lives shorn of the trappings of everyday life and everyday preoccupations.
The arrest of Jesus was just such a moment. He had been inviting it for months. His whole manner and his teaching led him close to the edge. He knew he was a marked down by the authorities as a troublemaker. Yet he continued. Indeed, he came to Jerusalem at this crucial time when the place was heaving with Jews from every quarter of the globe. Jerusalem was a hotbed of discussion and dissension - all going on under the cruel and watchful eye of the occupying army commander, pledged to keep order.
The trial and scourging and death of Jesus was no chance happening. It was a dead certainty which followed from his conduct in the final days of the festival in Jerusalem that Passover time.
What happened was the direct result of a decision by Jesus to be there and to continue preaching his message there. As if that was not enough, he actually initiated mayhem by causing total confusion in the very heart of the area controlled by the religious authorities. He tipped over the money desks of the money changers, causing a huge commotion.
What was he trying to do? What was he about? Did he wish to stir up the mob to revolt? No - there is no hint of that in any of his teaching. Did he want to reform the Priests? Improve their spirituality perhaps? Well - he did criticize them deeply but he makes is no appeal to them. No hint of encouraging them. It must be agreed that he was deeply sceptical of organised religion. He thought they were completely on the wrong lines.
So what was Jesus trying to do? Present himself as an alternative? A Jew, yet outside the Priestly class - why would he do that?
Was he then a firebrand who couldn’t help himself? Drawn to trouble like a moth to a flame? Or had he a deep desire to live dangerously, like those who try to go faster than ever before in land speed records? Was he a thrill seeker? As we ask the question we dismiss it as just not fitting the profile of the man whose teaching and healing acts are recorded in the gospels.
But that leaves us with the question - why did Jesus go to Jerusalem at that tinder-box moment, and act as he did in those few short days?
I believe the answer lies somewhere in his intuition. He sensed that this was to be the climax of his ministry and that it might/would end in death. He foretold, according to the gospels, that he would not grow to be an old man. He saw death coming. He saw death looming ahead of him even as he started out for Jerusalem. He saw no third way. Either he gave up being the person he believed himself to be, or he had to go steadily on. No playing it safe; he could only tell the truth as he saw it. He decided he must go steadily forward. He must do what he must do. He must meet his moment of truth.
The death he foresaw might have come to him in a dark alley, with a knife between his ribs. Or a volatile crowd might have revolted and been put down by soldiers and he could have been killed in the mayhem. Instead it came as a judicial murder - engineered by Jewish authorities and carried out by Roman soldiers.
The Cross is that moment of truth. All speculation about what Jesus might do or say is now ended. All possibilities are brought to an abrupt end. All hopes for the future are dashed. Just a naked figure hanging in pain, waiting for death to come with its merciful release.
But the Cross was also a moment of truth for God, a revelation of God who is truth. All past human history is narrowed down and down to this one moment on this little hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem. All that happened before that moment was preparatory. All that followed afterwards was a direct consequence. At this one point of time, covering a few short hours - as we gaze at the figure of a man hanging there, we look into the heart of God.
The Cross is the glimpse God permits us of his heart. This is what God is like. A man hanging in agony because he decided to go on with his life as he believed made sense. A man who could have easily evaded his captors. A man who could have detoured around Jerusalem at that time. Instead he kept steadfastly on - and paid for his ideals and beliefs with his life.
How does that tells us anything about God? How does that reveal God’s heart? Does it not rather tell us how stupid it is to stick one’s neck out? How it is far wiser to conform - at least on the outside of one’s life? Doesn’t it give us a powerful message of how not to follow God? Was it not all rather a mistake? A waste? A misunderstanding of what God wants? We are not meant to follow in his footsteps, are we?
Is that what the Cross tells us about life and about God? Or does it open a window into the meaning behind life? Does it give us values that enable us today, two thousand years later, to make sense of our lives?
Heaven knows, we need some help! For many of us life is reasonably good and, although we have to struggle, we are able to enjoy the goodies of life. We cannot grumble, most of us, at our standard of life. But even so we can feel very empty at times. Life can seem so meaningless. Getting the goodies doesn’t really give us that deep down satisfaction that, we suspect, is just out of our reach.
How does this figure of a man in terrible pain help us in our dilemma? The dilemma of not having the deepest dimension of our being truly satisfied?
The Cross shows us what God is really like because it shows us Jesus - God‘s Son - responding in love and forgiveness to the terrible injustice and pain of crucifixion. And because we are created by God and made in his image, we too are capable of responding to hatred in the same way. God shows us in the Cross how we are meant to conduct our lives.
‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ So if we imagine for a moment that we see God himself on that Cross, then we begin to see the extent of the love he has for each one of us and which we can, with his help, choose to mirror in our own lives. To see the Cross of Christ in true perspective we must see that it represents the love of God for us. The death of Christ on the Cross represents the loving God’s reaching out to us - it shows us the depths he will go in order to get us to respond to his love. And it shows us how we too must let that love rule our lives.
The Cross is the moment of truth for us because when we really look at it we see what we are worth to God. We see how much he values us. We see into the nature of reality - of God.
If God values us enough to suffer and die on the Cross, then we cannot go on in the same old way. We must stop and reconsider. If I am worth that to God, what must I do with my life? How must I live? How must I treat my fellow human beings?
God’s truth on the Cross strikes home to every human being - it resonates with our own humanity. To be human is to suffer pain, know endeavour and disappointment, have hopes and fears. The Cross shows us that God also suffers pain, has purposes and has hopes.
Life reminds us - through the brutal moments of truth in our lives - that it is not just an endless succession of days to be filled with this and that. Our moments of truth awaken us to the perception of reality that lies beneath the seeming show of things. The incredible reality is that it is in these moments of truth that we connect with God. How? In our innermost spirit we intuit God’s presence and - God willing - we respond.
When we respond to God’s call to our hearts we emerge into a more real world. Our moment of truth becomes moments, then minutes, hours, days - a lifetime lived on the road to truth - we are led by the Spirit into all truth. There is no better way.