Truth is the reflection of reality. To know the truth is to grasp the meaning of things, to understand the nature of what exists. Truth is the goal of wisdom, the reward of insight, the culmination of scholarship. The greatest minds of all ages have pursued truth. Some say that it is to know the mind of God.
Truth has been more than a minor pursuit in the history and cultures of mankind. Philosophy and religion, education and scholarship have all reached for it. The way in which people thought of truth framed the way they interacted with the world. To some schools, truth was something that transcended this world – and something that people had to transcend this world to understand. When truth was seen as transcendent, this world was seen as an illusion or an obstacle, something relatively valueless. Each view of truth had its own implications. If truth is impersonal, then the personal – human beings – are less valued. If truth is dispassionate, then feelings may not be trustworthy; they may not even be relevant. If truth is ruthless, then there is not much for mercy or compassion.
Jesus’ disciples reported him saying something that would frame the quest for reality in an entirely different way. They reported him as saying, “I am the truth.”
This poses a different challenge to each of the different ways of thinking about truth, so that different people would be shocked by this for different reasons. Those who thought of truth as a transcendent thing for the pristine realms of pure thought– these would be offended by the idea of truth walking the lowly soil of this world. Those who thought of truth as impersonal would speak of truth in sentences beginning “It is”, rather than “I am.” Jesus challenged the idea that the ultimate reality was impersonal, that people were irrelevant in the quest for truth. This last thought – that ultimate reality might be personal rather than impersonal – has far-reaching implications in our thoughts about ethics and morality.
But regardless of which particular thought about truth was being challenged, almost all would be shocked by a particular human laying personal claim to such a key place in the knowledge of reality. There has been much made of the fact that this saying is recorded in the fourth gospel -- the one likely written between sixty and seventy years after the events recorded, as far distant from that day as World War II is from ours. Still, it bears noticing that from the first of the gospels to the last of the gospels, all four gospels are essentially biographies. All four defined what should be passed along, what should be known, as Jesus.