19th Sunday after Pentecost

I have mentioned before that I am intrigued and fascinated and occasionally I find myself with a rather mischievous frame of mind when I hear science complaining about the nonsense that passes for rigorous scientific research and conclusions. I recently listened to a podcast ‘Facts, fear, fake news and Facebook’ (ABC Ockham’s Razor 9/9/18) which challenged its listeners not to ‘share [the latest ‘scientific insight’ if you care but to share with care by checking first to see whether there is any truth behind the claim. Good advice. Social media, it seems, normalises the weird and the wrong world wide. And why does the science communicator rail at this situation? Because it can put intolerable pressure on people going through tough times (eg. cancer) when they are bombarded with one new latest ‘cure’ or ‘treatment’ after the other. (Science as ‘pastoral care’ it seemed to me.) The social media algorithm works on feelings – the likes – not the facts. I suppose it is cyber mob rule – whoever shouts the ‘loudest’ gets heard.

I watched some of the broadcast regarding the US Supreme Court nominee on Twitter. There were two individuals testifying in front of the world. Tough going. What shocked me wasn’t the testimonies – I did have an uneasy voyeuristic sense about me – but the people ‘talking next to me all the way through’ – all the comments scrolling up – opinionated, many vile and frankly disgusting (well, to me), mostly partisan (again, it seemed to me). I had the impression that the testimonies weren’t heard to then be considered but were performances to be critiqued from a pre-judged position.

As I read and reflect and live in this world, I am increasingly thinking about Pontius Pilate. Now that might be someone unexpected but as we search for truth and meaning in a world which is increasingly unsure about both, his question to Jesus just might become the question of the 21st century. Jesus said that he came into the world to bear witness to the truth and that those ‘of the truth’ listen and follow him – to which Pilate replied, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:33-39). Science? Politics? For Pilate, it boiled down to not making Caesar his enemy. (And there’s a truth in that!)

Jesus’ words aren’t an objective proof but a declaration about himself. He and his perspective on the world is truth and this shapes whomever follows him. This isn’t unusual – we all regard truth to be part of the people we trust. That was the response of the apostles and the first generation of Christians to the risen Jesus. That is the response of today’s disciples of Jesus. The difference is that we have nearly 2,000 years of church history in between which can’t be ignored – because the world certainly won’t ignore it!

Science, critical thinking, wisdom can teach us – remind us – to ask questions; good questions. Who is behind the message? What is the goal of the message? Who is paying for the message? What’s the purpose of the message? What is the evidence for the message? Am I being pressured to ‘sign up’ to this ‘truth’?

I don’t want to make a rift between Jesus and his Church but I will distinguish or make the point that not everything done in Jesus’ name would get Jesus’ assent. I see that in myself. Not everything I think, do, or say – and I do want to follow Jesus – gets Jesus’ imprimatur. That is why the truth about following Jesus is found in a cross and empty tomb; in words such as ‘repentance’, ‘discipleship’, ‘service’, and ‘love’. Organisationally we might want the world to follow Jesus but that doesn’t mean that we make the world in our organisational image! The truth of Christianity is that Jesus was crucified for sinners – and Jesus still only dwells with sinners to help them each day – and that truth is the only one that can really and definitively help this world – each person – love and serve each other. And I think that’s the truth. GS