Here’s a scene from A Man for All Seasons. It’s the scene where King Henry VIII is trying to coax Thomas More to agree to Henry’s divorce of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. They are in the garden as Henry is speaking: “You must consider, Thomas, that I stand in peril of my soul. It was no marriage; she was my brother’s widow. ‘Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of they brother’s wife’, Leviticus, chapter eighteen, verse sixteen.”
More replies: “Yes, Your Grace. But Deuteronomy…” Henry interrupts angrily: “Deuteronomy is ambiguous!” More replies quietly: “Your Grace, I’m not fit to meddle in these matters—-to me it seems a matter for the Holy See…”
Once more Henry interrupts: “Thomas, Thomas, does a man need a pope to tell him when he’s sinned? It was a sin, Thomas: I admit it, I repent. And God has punished me; I have no son…Son after son she has borne me, Thomas, all dead at birth or dead within the month. I never saw the hand of God so clear in anything…It is my bounded duty to put away the Queen and all the popes back to St. Peter shall not come between me and my duty! How is it you cannot see? Everyone else does.” More answers: “Then why does Your Grace need my poor support?” And Henry comes back with those powerful words that everyone of us would like to hear: “Because you are honest. What’s more to the purpose, you’re known to be honest. There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, and there are those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I am their lion, and there is a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves—-and there is you.”
Today (this evening) is the feast of Christ the King. The Gospel scene from John is the trial before Pilate. There’s great irony in this scene because it’s really Pilate who is the one on trial, and he must face a decision that he doesn’t want to make. As he is “squirming” he tries to divert the conversation by asking the question, “What is truth?” In the end Pilate prefers his position over integrity and decides against Jesus. He condemns himself by being afraid.
Thomas More is also on trial. He chooses integrity despite what it will lead to—-death.
In the confusion of current times, we are asked a question: “Do you think that you need a Savior? Or do you think you can you get by on your own?” Pilate was going with the current of the times and doing what he thought he had to do so he could hold on to his power. Thomas More had a different sense of his circumstances.
In many ways, all of us are asked what Henry asked More: “How is it that you cannot see, everyone else does?” In other words, “Why can’t you just go along with everybody else?” And people of faith reply, “I see something greater here. There are values I believe in, there is the teaching of Christ that guides me and puts me on a different path than the “current tide”.
And so your response will be as crucial for you as it was for Pilate. It will be whether you will buckle because of your need for acceptance from the secular world, or you will choose faithfulness to God as your guiding spirit.
Before you as before Pilate Christ says, “I bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” We are asked to be steadfast in faith for Christ also said, “Take courage, I have overcome the world.