Thine Is the Kingdom

Jon Meacham in The New York Times:

Jesus It is only a brief moment, a seemingly inconclusive ­exchange in the midst of one of the most significant interviews in human history. In the Gospel of John, Jesus of Nazareth has been arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Improbably polite, reflective and reluctant to sentence Jesus to death (the historical Pilate was in fact brutal and quick-tempered), Pilate is portrayed as a patient questioner of this charismatic itinerant preacher. “So you are a king?” Pilate asks, and Jesus says: “You say that I am a king. I was born for this, and I came into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is committed to the truth listens to my voice.” Then, in what I imagine to be a cynical, world-weary tone, Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

Jesus says nothing in response, and Pilate’s question is left hanging — an open query in the middle of John’s rendering of the Passion. I have always thought of Pilate’s question as a kind of wink from God, a sly aside to the audience that says, in effect, “Be careful of anyone who thinks he has all the answers; only I do.” The search for truth — about the visible and the invisible — is perhaps the most fundamental of human undertakings, ranking close behind the quests for warmth, food and a mate. With apologies and due respect and affection to my friends Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, that perennial search for an answer to Pilate’s question usually takes religious form. “All men need the gods,” as Homer has it, and nothing since then — not Galileo, not Darwin, not the Enlightenment, nothing — has changed the intrinsic impulse to organize stories and create belief systems that give shape to life and offer a vision of what may lie beyond the grave.

More here.