One of Jack Nicholson’s famous movie lines was his defiant rebuke of a zealous young attorney played by Tom Cruise: “You can’t handle the truth!” We often complain about the difficulty of discovering the truth nowadays, but handling the truth is just as important. Consider how Jesus does it in today’s text.
Knowing all that was to happen to him, Jesus approaches Judas’s group and asks, “Whom are you looking for?” When they answer, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he replies, “I am he”—and they stumble backward and fall to the ground (vv. 4-6).
Some believe their prostration was a response to Jesus’ “I am” statement, a feature of John’s Gospel. But it’s also plausible that they were “floored” by his forthrightness, staggered that anyone would tell the truth, especially when it endangered him. Nonetheless, knowing the truth would cost him, Jesus speaks it. The truth, when handled with integrity, always surprises.
Perhaps hymnist S. Ralph Harlow had this scene in mind when writing “O Young and Fearless Prophet” whose deeds lead us to,
… marvel at the purpose that held Thee to Thy course While ever on the hilltop before Thee loomed the cross; Thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone, While we betray so quickly and leave Thee there alone.
When being true to our best, truest self involves danger or a steep price tag, the easiest exit is to mumble a lie. Before this night is over, Peter will do just that. Jesus, however, establishes another pattern. His courage is so stunning that it staggers soldiers and we’re still talking about it today. How we handle truth reveals who we truly are.
What makes it uncomfortable for you to own up to who you truly are?
God, help me to handle the truth about myself with integrity, that you might help me become more than I now am. Amen.