Tried and True
TRIED AND TRUE
I was 16 when I first saw the 1999 Sci-Fi, kung fu, mind bending, classic movie, The Matrix. And because the advertising campaign was scarce on details, I went into the movie not knowing what to expect. If you haven’t seen the movie The Matrix, it has been nineteen years since it was released so don’t blame me for spoiling the surprise, you had plenty of time to see it.
In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves, stars as Thomas A. Anderson. A computer programmer in a major metropolitan area by day, by night Mr. Anderson is an infamous computer hacker named Neo. Neo always had a sense that something wasn’t quite right with the world he lived in. One night he gets contacted by a known criminal name Morpheus, the most dangerous man in the world. Morpheus tells Neo that he knows the truth about what is going on, he knows the truth about what hackers on the internet call The Matrix. After escaping from some well dressed secret agents, Neo meets up with Morpheus in a secret location. He is told that the world that surrounds him is not what it seems. Morpheus tells Neo that he knows the secret of the Matrix. Morpheus shows Neo two pills. A blue pill. And a red pill. If he takes the blue pill Neo will wake up back in his bed and will go back to his normal life. If he takes the red pill he will become Alice falling down the rabbit hole, a reference to the classic book Alice in Wonder land, where a young girl finds a parallel world to our own by falling down a giant rabbit hole. Morpheus tells Neo that if he takes the red pill he will get to see, “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Well it wouldn’t be a very exciting movie if Neo had taken the blue pill. So even if you haven’t seen the movie you can guess that Neo takes the red pill. I remember the scene where Neo takes the red pill as if it were yesterday. Because I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what the movie would show me. What happened next was a drastic transition from the world that we recognize, the world of a modern city, to Neo finding himself in a vat of orange jell, suspended hundreds of feet in the air, in a massive tower with thousands of other vats filled with people. A chord is connected to the back of his head. Around him is a dark and horrible world of machines. It turns out that the world Neo knew was a computer simulation called the Matrix. Neo was born into the Matrix. He along with everyone else was used by the machines as a battery to power their civilization. The next three movies are about Neo’s attempts to fight this repressive reality and to set humanity free into the real world, into the truth.
“What is truth?” the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate asks this profound question to Jesus in our passage today. Pilate asks this question because Pilate like Neo in the Matrix is experiencing a collision of realities. But the collision is not between a computer simulation and the real world. Instead, it is a collision between three Kingdoms, three cultures. There is the Roman Kingdom, the Jewish Kingdom, and Jesus’ Kingdom, which Jesus says is not of this world. When Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, Jesus replies, “ You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth.” Jesus’ Kingdom is a Kingdom of Truth. And when we enter into his Kingdom he can help us navigate the trials of truth that we face in our lives.
The Good News: When we
- Understand our Moral Matrix
- Be known for reasonableness instead of unreasonableness
- Hold truth and godliness in tension with mutual forbearance.
First, to hear Jesus’ voice we have to identify our moral matrixes. In understanding our unspoken Moral language I have been helped by the work of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist and author of the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion. Haidt doesn’t take a Christian perspective on morality but I have found some of his thoughts helpful in thinking about morality and truth in general. Haidt argues that we all have a desire for righteousness. We all have a desire to be just, upright, and virtuous, and to live in a society that is just, upright and virtuous. Righteous feelings, Haidt argues, comes from a sense of justice, morality, or fair play. But these feelings can easily fall into self righteousness. Haidt descries self righteousness as being, “ convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.” ( Haidt, The Righteous Mind). Haidt argues that we all have some sense of morality. But liberals and conservatives have different foundations of morality, and this is what causes a lot of conflict between people. He calls our different basis for morality our moral matrixes, which is a reference to The Matrix movie.
The first foundation of morality is what he calls Harm/Care. This is the idea that we should care for others and we should be angry when others cause harm, especially to the weak and vulnerable. We see this value in value in Jesus, our good shepherd, who lays down his life to protect his sheep from harm.
The second foundation is fairness/reciprocity. This can be summed up by the Golden Rule, Do unto others as they would have done unto you. This is a common principle found in most world religions. Jesus teaches it in the Sermon on the Mount.
And while liberal and conservative people tend to share these two foundations, conservative people have three more moral foundations that liberal people tend not to find as important. This doesn’t make conservative people better than liberal people or vice versa. It just means we are wired somewhat differently.
The third foundation is in group loyalty. Animals may form in groups, think of a wolf pack. But these groups tend to be small, and they all tend to be related to each other. Humans form far larger groups of people who are not directly related to each other. We call these groups tribes and nations. These groups are most united when they have another group to fight against. In our culture we don’t really have tribes the 12 tribes of Israel. But we still make tribes. Think of your favorite sports teams and how excited you are when they win. For example, if you’re an Philadelphia Eagle’s fan your team winning the super bowl last year was probably as exciting for you as an epic battle. That is because you identify with that tribe. That is part of human nature.
The Fourth Foundation of morality is authority and respect. In the animal Kingdom this is often based on physical strength. But in human society it can be based on respect for the rule of law, institutions, and even love. Jesus tells us that we as Christians are to show divine authority not by telling folks what to do but by how we love one another (John 13:35).
The fifth foundation of morality is purity/sanctity. To quote Haidt,” this is the idea that you can attain virtue by what you put into your body.” We see this in play in today’s passage when the religious leaders refuse to go into Pilate’s headquarters, because Pilate is a Gentile, which was a word for anyone who wasn’t Jewish. We all have notions of what purity means. But ultimately Jesus said it isn’t what we put into our bodies that defile us but what comes out of our hearts. what comes out of our hearts. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.”
Haidt points out that people with liberal inclinations tend to care more about harm/care, and fairness/reciprocity as two primary virtues. They don’t tend to care much for the other three moral foundations. Conservatives care about harm/care and fairness/reciprocity but they tend to care more about in group loyalty, authority and respect, and purity/sanctity. If you are a more liberal person today you care deeply about notions of justice and progress. And that is needed. But someone of a conservative nature might recognize another truth. The truth that order tends to decay over time. Order is hard to build and easy to break, so tearing apart order for the sake of justice, isn’t always a bright idea.
Jesus’ Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, as he calls it, I believe would be a world governed by these five values in perfect balance. This is what the Bible describes in the Garden of Eden. As Genesis tells us we ate of the knowledge of good and evil and thus were thrown out of the garden. The problem is even if you know about good and evil you can’t make good judgments if you don’t have the right perspective. You can’t judge if the matrix isn’t working properly if you are in the matrix. Like Neo, you have to be on the outside of the Matrix to truly understand how it works. And the problem is while we are all great at saying when another person’s moral matrix is off, because we are outside of their moral matrix, we are pretty bad at seeing when our own matrix is off, because we are inside our own moral matrix. But that is hard to do when different moral matrixes, different moral Kingdom’s collide. When Kingdom’s collide people tend to get crucified both metaphorically and literally. Because we all think we are right. And our feeling of rightness can blind us to the harm that we are doing to others. How do we step outside our moral matrixes and live in the Kingdom of God as people that are in this world but not of this world? I think Paul says Christians should be known for being reasonable rather than unreasonable.
The Apostle Paul has some advice for us on judging truth in his letters. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 where he says, “ This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
Paul worked in many cultures with many different types of people. He isn’t saying that we should all just agree to disagree. Instead, he is saying that we must make decisions, we must stand up for what we believe in, but our decisions should be provisional, because we know only in part. We should hold fast to the truth but know the truth doesn’t belong to us it is on loan to us, we are stewards of it. As Paul say in Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:4-5). The word for reasonable suggests that we are looking from above our own moral matrix to see what is fair from God’s perspective. It is easy to seem reasonable to those who agree with us. It is hard to seem reasonable to everyone, even those who disagree with us. For while we are saved by faith we as Christians shall stand before the Lord and have to give an account of every careless word we have said. The Lord is the ultimate judge. And we shouldn’t assume that his judgement on issues we are passionate about will always come out in our favor.
Finally, Jesus tells us that we don’t need to be defensive because the truth will win out in the end. Jesus was in the trial of his life. And he lost his life in his trial. But he believed in his mission. He believed the words he said were spirit and truth. And God vindicated him by raising him from the dead in the the end. Jesus reflects on our natural tendency to tear each other down in Luke Chapter 7. There the religious leaders of his day criticized him for dining with undesirable people like tax collectors, prostitutes, and other people who were oppressed and looked down upon. Jesus replied to his critics, “ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
The truth is vindicated because the truth produces children of truth, the truth produces children of God, in this life or in the next. So let us today submit ourselves to the Judge of Truth. That we may be tried and found true. That our faith may be tested and found more precious than gold. That we may bear fruit. Because we need to bear fruit. When John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked him if he was the real deal here is what he said, “ Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” And if we are going to follow him we have to believe that he can do that with us too. So today let us ask the Lord to try our hearts, to test our ways, that we may be found tried and true.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen