Text: John 14:15-21 (the Spirit of Truth)
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus tells his friends that the world will not accept the Spirit of Truth God will send to them. But isn’t truth a universal value; and doesn’t everyone want to understand reality? So, why does Jesus say “the world” does not accept the Spirit of Truth?
Trying to agree on what is true or real is often difficult. Does a child’s troubling behaviour reflect parenting or social conditions? Is Darwin’s theory of evolution the bedrock of biology or is it a lie designed to undermine faith in a Creator God? Can both economic and environmental well-being be successfully fostered by governments? Questions like these often do not lead to a consensus understanding.
In today’s global pandemic, vast armies of researchers are struggling to understand the new coronavirus. They are racing to learn ways to mitigate its spread, to find treatments for the COVID-19 disease it causes, and to develop a safe vaccine that might eventually control it. The rest of us can follow news reports about their quest; and we hope the science-based guidelines of public health officials will help keep ourselves and the community safe.
Because of the pandemic, the spring of 2020 feels like a red-letter moment for science. Medical officers of health like Dr. Deena Hinshaw in Alberta are celebrities, and many newscasts contains clips of scientists working in labs around the world.
There is much that researchers have not yet learned about the coronavirus, and there is heated discussion on the best way to fight it. How well have months of lockdown suppressed its spread? Will the virus surge back as physical distancing lifts? Can the economy be restarted without increased disease, or are the economy and public health opposed to each other?
Finally, in a cultural moment when many people distrust authority, the pandemic has become a breeding ground for questionable ideas. Was the virus concocted as a weapon in an American or Chinese military lab? Can drinking poison cure a sick person? (Just to be clear, the answer is no!) Are death totals being manipulated? Does the new virus even exist? One could go on.
When Jesus tells his friends that God’s Spirit of Truth will not be accepted by the world, he is speaking to them in occupied Palestine in the First Century. I believe he is reminding his friends that what is considered the truth by the Roman Emperor will be different than the realities his poor friends need to discover.
The Emperor demands that his subjects worship him as a god and support his rule even though it is based on conquest and exploitation. In an empire with a tiny class of rich landowners and a huge class of peasants, the question of truth is a political one. Confronting the Peace of Rome with the Peace of Christ can get one executed.
Jesus knows that the Emperor and his elite will not accept the truths of justice and compassion promoted by those who follow Jesus’ way of universal love.
Things may seem different today. Unlike Roman emperors, Canada’s leaders are elected, and Canada’s laws apply to both the wealthy and the poor. Nevertheless, Canada contains many competing agendas; and this is one reason why Jesus’ words may still have relevance for us.
In searching for the truth, we might want to look at who gets to ask the questions? What methods are used to answer them? And whose perspectives are valued?
I am pleased that science is the watchword for most of us in the midst of the pandemic. I am also aware that in a world scarred by divisions between nations, classes, and companies, science is sometimes compromised.
The task of trying to understand reality can be helped by the company we keep. In the First Century, Jesus led his followers away from a focus on just one tribe. His Way was open to anyone who valued Love regardless of tribe or nation.
Today, I give thanks for this community of faith. We try to be led by love and are relatively impervious to the siren calls of nationalism and superstition. We value science and the public production of knowledge even as we also try to discern hidden agendas or biases.
I am glad that nations are sharing best practices on the pandemic and that a network of scientific researchers are cooperating across the globe. The extent to which these efforts are focused on the needs of humanity as a whole and not just one slice of it is the extent to which I trust the realities they uncover.
The coronavirus has exposed a lot. Nations with greater inequalities seem to struggle more. Those with greater social solidarity and stronger social safety nets seem to be doing better.
In Canada, the curve of infection has been flattened even as painful conditions in nursing homes, meat packing plants, First Nations communities, and homeless populations have been revealed.
May the quest to understand the virus continue in a spirit of internationalism and compassion. And may countries like Canada heal the weaknesses that have been exposed so that the pandemic can be brought to an end and a society that is closer to a Spirit of Truth and Love be created.
May it be so. Amen.