What is Truth?

Yesterday, upon opening my e-mail, I encountered a story that’s making the rounds.  Perhaps you’ve encountered it too.  It’s the story of a homeless person; it’s the story of a a new pastor of a megachurch.  Maybe it’s our story too.  Decide for yourselves.
But before we even get to the story, take a look at the picture that starts things off:
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The way the story goes is that a homeless man enters a church.  He goes to the front pew, but ushers quickly move him to the back.  He tries to interact with people, but they ignore him shirking back when he gets close.  The time comes for announcements.  He listens attentively.  Then, at the end of the announcements, the elders of the church stand up.  They present their new pastor.  The seemingly homeless man.
The chatter on the web has to do with the question, “Is the story really true?”  Some folks deeply involved in homeless ministry checked the story out.  They couldn’t verify it, so they said it isn’t true.
Others responded with stories they had heard, encounters they had witnessed. The many times they’ve heard from homeless folks who have been greeted with long stares and cold shoulders when they’ve visited mainstream churches–churches like St. Michael’s.  The rejection, the hurt that people who worship in street churches often feel when they venture inside.
One person even sought out and posted a “true” story about a Methodist pastor who lived on the streets for five days and then, as his daughter and daughter-in-law shaved his scruffy beard and combed his hair, preached his inaugural sermon at the church to which he had been called.  “Verifiable.”  “True.”  “Something a divinity student could put in a paper.”  All this got me to wondering:
 That’s the question Pilate asks Jesus.  A question worth asking.  A question teachers love to ask.
Is the story about the megachurch pastor who came to church dressed as a homeless person true?  It’s not verifiable, but is it true?
How about the story about that Methodist pastor who lived as a homeless person for almost a week and then revealed himself to his congregation on his first Sunday?  What’s the truth in that story?  It’s verifiable.  But was the pastor living the truth?
Warning:  Teacher Lurking Nearby.  Here it comes.
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Jesus wrestled with a different notion of truth.  One that he preach only through parables.  Parables aren’t history or even good journalism.  They are not verifiable.  You can’t google “Prodigal Son” and come up with the incident that provoked Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son any more than you can google “One and ninety-nine sheep” and come up with the incident Jesus described.  Parables aren’t historically verifiable.  But does that make them untrue?  I think not.
There’s a truth that lies underneath the parables, just as there is a truth that lies underneath the story of the pastor who posed as a homeless man.  The truth Jesus told in what is called “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.”  You remember the story–“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'”Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brother and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

If we went looking for that king, if we delved into historical records, if we scoured all the shards of evidence from Jesus’ day, we would NEVER find that king.  Nor would we find the folks who took him in when he was hungry.  But if went looking for folks in need and also for folks that helped them, we just might stumble across the king and the righteous ones.
I doubt that homeless pastor really exists.  And yet I think there’s truth in the story.  Truth in people who shirk from welcoming strangers into their midst.  Truth in how our country and our congress responds to the neediest among us.
But there’s more to parables that just the truth that rests beneath them and the truths that they expose.  There’s always a challenge.  The challenge to be the one who feeds the hungry, who houses the homeless, who gives clothes to those in need, who visits the sick and those imprisoned.
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