The Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
2018 – Cycle B
Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18: 33b-37
Truth is becoming more and more elusive in our society, is it not?
In August of this year, the former Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani said, “Truth isn’t truth”. Then what is truth, if it isn’t truth?
Recently a very distraught student asked to speak with me. She was desperate for, she said, the truth and didn’t know who to believe? Who or what is the repository of the truths of our faith? I realized later she wasn’t looking for truth at all but for certainty. The two can be confused. Certainty is something we grasp for a sense of security. Regretfully certainty is illusive and escapes out of our hands like sand in an hourglass. Truth is something we encounter and live out. That is why people who lie are held accountable.
Consider, which is more truthful?
A detailed portrait by a Dutch Master like Anthony Van Dyck?
A contemporary photograph or selfie of a person?
Or a cubist painting by Picasso or an expressionist portrait by Matisse?
Each portrays truth. Yet which version most honestly portrays the truth of the person?
Truth is not necessarily the same as hard facts. A photograph versus an expressionist painting reveal very different things. An event is more than facts. It includes motivations, purpose, emotions, a person’s past, all of which cannot be seen. Therefore do the cameras on police cars and the cams on the officers show us the full truth of an incident? Is the visual all-revealing and always the whole truth? What of perception?
Why do human love stories? Why do we write and read fiction and poetry? Why do we create religious and national mythologies? Is it not because the reality of truth is beyond simply what we hear and see?
We do all of these creative acts because truth is more than certainty and fact.
Consider our Catholic sacramental imagination. “We see water [poured] over an infant’s head at Baptism and suddenly we behold new life”. The facts are water poured. The truth is salvation and eternal life! “We watch ministers handing out small wafers [to eat and cups of wine to drink] and suddenly we realize we are sharing in God’s life with our sisters and brothers and somehow are mysteriously one. The facts are bread and wine, people eating and drinking. The truth is sacrifice and thanksgiving; reconciliation and praise. We look at a holy card [of a saint], a piece of paper, and perceive fidelity, courage and love. What first appears ordinary catches fire.” The fact is a picture. The truth is spiritual encouragement. [See Positively Catholic by Michael leach, Loyola Press, Chicago 2016, page 2.]
As we come today and bless an ikon, an image, of Jesus Christ we hear an ancient Christian hymn in the Letter to the Colossians: “Christ is [the ikon], the image of the invisible God”. [Colossians 1:15]
How can something visible portray or make present the invisible?
It is all about truth. It is about seeing beyond what we perceive to an encounter with the divine. We do this in all the sacraments where we see, we behold Jesus acting in our lives through the laying on of hands, the anointing with oil, the exchange of vows and rings that have no beginning or end, the pouring of water, or eating and drinking a common meal.
And so it is with an ikon. An ikon is more than a sacred image or painting. Eastern Christians, Catholic and Orthodox, understand that as we are looking into the eyes of Jesus or Mary or a saint we are also being seen. There is in the encounter with an ikon, a mystical experience and encounter with Christ or the saints. The facts of an ikon are wood, egg-tempera, a drawing, colour, shape, glazes, and gold leaf. The truth is a window into heaven, an encounter with the living God.
Consider too that we don’t know what Jesus looked like since there are no descriptions of him in the Gospels or Letters. Maybe he didn’t have a beard or long hair. But this basic image has come down to us through the generations at least since the 4th century. The Byzantine tradition of painting is a bit abstract, even contemporary to our Western sensibilities. But we are sure that this is not obviously a selfie or a John Singer Sargent portrait. But unlike a photographer or a portrait painter the ikon is not trying to portray only the externals of a person but their spiritual presence and indwelling in heaven. The truth of an ikon is about seeing and being seen. That is why a person, makes a deep reverence before an ikon. Ikons are honoured with incense, kisses and candles like an altar for both make Christ present.
Thus when Jesus speaks before Pilate today, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. Is he not speaking about himself? “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”. The facts are a troublesome, itinerate Jewish rabbi. The truth is the ikon, the image, of the invisible God.