The famous scene from A Few Good Men where Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) is pressed on the stand by the ambitious naval lawyer Lt Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) has Jessup unraveling and saying “You can’t handle the truth!” The plot is multi-layered but revolves around the death of PFC Santiago. Is it true that Santiago was a less than motivated marine or is there a side to the story, buried in Cuba, that actually does reveal the truth behind Santiago’s less than exemplary performance? The plot climaxes with the courtroom tension between Jessup and Kaffee. Would a naval lawyer, with a reputation for laziness and never having been inside a courtroom, actually breach the wall constructed by Jessup himself?
I believe people can handle the truth, the truth about Jesus and His incredible story. Though, to many Jews of Jesus’ day, Jesus was similar to PFC Santiago. Jesus was a disappointment. He wasn’t the exemplary Messiah most were expecting. In fact, a “CODE RED” is given to Jesus, an extrajudicial punishment, by the Jewish leaders, which leads to Jesus’ death.
But what truth are we trying to extract here? In the case of Santiago, he was allegedly murdered by two hyper motivated marines. The truth is eventually revealed that they were ordered to discipline Santiago (the CODE RED) apart from marine guidelines, implicating Jessup as the catalyst responsible for Santiago’s untimely death. In the case of Jesus, we aren’t trying to uncover His executioners. They are clearly exposed in the final “courtroom scene” from the gospel writers’ narratives.
However, there’s much more to the truth about Jesus’ story than ‘whodunnit.’ The truth of Jesus’ story also tells us of God’s plan for the way Jesus will rule the earth, especially since Jesus was vindicated when resurrected. Its that truth that I believe people can handle, but maybe handle much better by being taught through scenes unfolding in a well planned movie plot rather than if that truth was logical and calculated in a cubicle, totaling lines A through G on tax documents. In other words, there’s an inherent authority that can be understood from being exposed to the Gospels’ narrative, their plot. Merely adding a few verses together from here and from there in the Gospels has the potential to sterilize its content, and we, like many of the Jews of Jesus’ day, are left scratching are heads as to what Jesus even meant by calling Himself “The Truth, the Way, and the Life.”
The disciples sure seem to have had a difficult run of it during Jesus’ ministry, too. Even though Jesus occasionally spelled the climactic scene out for them, they seemed to have shelved that along with Jesus’ many other symbolic teachings. If we had a full understanding of what their expectations were for the Messiah, and stood that next to Jesus’ understanding of the what the Messiah was expected to fulfill, we might be surprised to see many similarities. For example, when Jesus speaks in parables, the language He uses reaffirms Jewish expectations, but with a important twist.
For Colonel Jessup and Daniel Kaffee there were two truths, two stories, concerning Santiago. Jessup’s truth had the strength of his reputation for being an iron fisted leader. Kaffee’s truth seemed much weaker and had to come by way of revelation, bit by bit, but would have the power to eventually “breach” Jessup’s wall of truth. For many Jews and for Jesus there were two truths, two stories, concerning Israel’s Messiah. Traditional Jewish versions of this truth predicted the iron fist of God in the Messiah who would come judging Israel right and everyone else wrong. They predicted the Messiah would siege the the Temple, punish the wicked, reward the faithful, and then proceed to expel pagan oppressors. This was a very strong narrative for them. When Jesus speaks truth to the Jews, though bold, He still seems to speak in a much weaker way than what was expected, not as urgent, although still clinging to traditional Jewish themes of deliverance, judgment, and victorious rule. Their was a twist. To understand the true strength of Jesus’ story maybe we need to “see” it scene by scene, bit by bit, by way of revelation.
Because, this truth will have the power to breach not only the strength of the traditional Jewish expectation of their Messiah, it might also breach much of our own generation.