CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: A Call to Live as People of Truth
Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
- John 17:6-19
I used to be a newspaper reporter. Over years of covering schools, city government, courts and police, I frequently named truth as my short-term desire and ultimate goal: Just tell me the truth. I want to know the truth. Show me evidence of the truth. My only agenda is to print the truth.
The truth I was seeking then – and that I often seek now as a parent – was of the kind that can be proven through corroboration and documentation. Dogged, on a mission, I would often ask multiple people the same question, hoping I could figure out the truth by noticing common threads. I sought pieces of paper to prove, definitively, without a doubt, that something was real and factual.
At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the privilege and power I was wielding as a white woman with access to ink by the barrel. I interrogated sources, but I did not interrogate my own practices. Whose voices were silenced or ignored in my search for the truth? Who has the power, and who ought to have the power, to decide what is true? What true north was guiding my understanding of how to perceive truth?
Our passage today comes from the fourth Gospel, which has a particular concern for truth. The word appears dozens of times: Jesus’ glory is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus says he is the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Jesus will send the Spirit of truth to testify on his behalf (John 15:26). While questioning Jesus, Pontius Pilate asks, What is truth (John 18:38)?
John 17:6-19 is part of Jesus’ final prayer before his crucifixion. After praying to God the Father that the hour has come for his glory, Jesus turns his attention to interceding for his disciples. The beginning of this prayer is consonant with the message throughout John’s gospel: The incarnate Jesus is one with the Father, sent by God and given God’s people to protect and save.
Jesus then pleads for the protection of his disciples in a hostile world, noting that neither he nor the disciples are of the world. There is evil in the world, and the world’s ways won’t remove it. Only Jesus’ ways can do that – ways of love and unity and joy.
Jesus asks the Father to “sanctify them in the truth” (verse 17) – the truth of God’s love made manifest in Jesus, who bids us to go into the world and be a people of truth. Not just a people of speaking truth but of embodying it, as Jesus has, through belief and action. And not just a truth that is about fact or fiction, but a truth so essential to our very lives that the Spirit breathes it on us.
This prayer is a hope for the future and a command for now. The world is hurting now. Risk everything to go into the world now, set apart as God’s beloved children, to share the Good News of the Trinitarian God who loves and liberates.
While the prayer is pitched to the disciples in Jesus’ time, it extends to us today.
The Episcopal Church’s vision for becoming Beloved Community urges Jesus followers to commit to four practices toward racial justice, reconciliation and healing: telling the truth, proclaiming the dream, repairing the breach and practicing the Way of Love.
The work of dismantling racism requires all four practices, over and over, throughout a lifetime. But telling the truth is an essential first step, the foundation on which the other three grow. Without it, communities and individuals who have been traumatized by the Church’s complicity in white supremacy cannot heal, trust or thrive. Without it, structures built on white privilege cannot be redeemed. Without it, white people like me will remain alienated from our siblings of color and captive to oppressive systems that dehumanize all of us when they dehumanize any of us.
Our call to be truth-tellers who resist evil and pursue justice and peace – the prayer in John 17:6-19 and at the heart of our baptismal covenant – is urgent. We are not of the world of fake news, science deniers and conspiracy theories. The world needs us to be living proof of God’s loving and liberating truth – listening to the voices of the marginalized, giving power to the oppressed and joining our bodies with those already working for the Kingdom of God.
What truth is Jesus inviting you to tell about yourself? About our church? About the world? Is the animating truth in your life of God or of the world? How might you not only become a truth-teller but a disciple who embodies truth in knowledge and action?
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