As a young mother, I often listened to stories of injustice told by my children, knowing I was hearing some version of the truth. Once they were done spilling their guts, I asked about the other side of the story, the one the other mother would hear. “The truth lies somewhere in the middle,” I’d say, knowing my point was falling on deaf ears.
Speaking truth is important to me. But at best, I am clumsy in speaking it. I get tongue-tied. And while much better at writing than speaking truth, even here, what I birth into the world is maimed rather than whole. I am at cross purposes right now with a beloved child—I tried to express truth that I could not–and between the speaking and the listening, we could not grasp the truth waiting to be claimed in the middle. My child gave up in frustration, and for now, the door is closed. I must take time before knocking again. And meanwhile, become like a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep, as I patiently wait for the door to crack open.
In still thinking about last week’s retreat, I realize Jesus understood better than I this matter of closed doors and the failure to convey difficult-to-grasp truths. Jesus was always in the uncomfortable middle–as truth always is–while the parties on either side of Jesus changed with the situation. Sometimes it was his disciples against the needy. Sometimes it was the Pharisees against the needy. And on the night of his arrest, Jesus found himself in the middle between the Jewish and Roman authorities and neither seemed as interested in truth as in preserving their way of life.
Jesus went against the grain when he was arrested, by not inviting his disciples to follow him. Not even the three who had witnessed his transfiguration high and Gethsemane low were invited, though two followed anyway. Jesus surrendered, asking the soldiers to let his disciples go free. Keeping the disciples away from the fray would not only protect them but would protect the way of truth that defined Jesus’ life. And Jesus knew just how hard speaking truth would be as lives hung in jeopardy, as Peter discovered firsthand, when he lied three times about knowing Jesus.
Jesus made it easy for his executioners. Speaking a few words of truth, he gave the Jewish authorities exactly what they needed to press charges against him. And when it came to cross-examination by the Roman governor Pilate, Jesus offered little in the way of self-defense. At least, no truth Pilate could grasp.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus. Much to the Jews revulsion, Pilate ends up writing the answer to his question on a wooden sign in three languages–“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”–which was hung high on the cross above a crucified Jesus. “What I have written, I have written,”, Pilate says in dismissal as he slams the door on ‘the Jews’ complaints. Perhaps Pilate found truth a little easier to communicate in writing as well.
Jesus died on the cross in the middle, spilling his blood in the gospel truth. And three days later, the resurrected Jesus began his wait as the middle person of the Trinity. Forever at cross purposes, Jesus stands on the doorstep. He knocks. He waits. And if the door opens, truth waits to be seen, to come out of the middle, to be embraced and claimed for all time.
And why not? There’s no need to knock on wood if you can knock on truth.