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Eat Your Own Dog Food

November 26, 2000

John 18:33-37

by Tony Grant

I now invite you to turn in your bibles to the gospel of John chapter 18 and follow along as I read verses 33-37. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?

34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?

35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?

36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.

We claim to believe that the truth is healthy for us, but how often are we willing to internalize it so that it becomes a part of our lifestyle? To put it another way, our theology is not what we say but what we live. Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf says, "I don't do systematic theology which then gets to be applied. I saw immediately that I couldn't explicate the theological content of forgiveness without engaging in the social practice of it. It's the same with the doctrine of God. I don't talk about it in abstraction from how the presence and activity of God impinge on the way you live your life." "Doing theology ought to be a way of participating in God's redemptive work. Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world." [Tim Stafford, "The New Theologians: Miroslav Volf: Speaking Truth to the World," Christianity Today, February 8, 1999, 36-37.] Miroslav Volf you see is a man who believes in eating his own dog food.

It is now three days since Thanksgiving. Are you tired of eating turkey? Turkey sandwiches. Turkey casserole. Turkey a la king. Turkey legs. Turkey pie. Turkey soup. Try dog food. Join Fido and open a bag of dry food, tumble a healthy crunchy pile into his dish and another heaping helping into your own cereal bowl. Stir in some hot water to make a delicious brown gravy and then lap it up! Your reaction may be that that is a very unsavory suggestion. In fact,you might find the sermon title today a bit nauseous—Eat your own dog food. Ugh!

Okay, so you're not going to eat your dog's food. But this is a slogan that is going around the business world. What it means is that we should "practice what we preach," or "put our money where our mouth is." The phrase is everywhere, showing up in newspaper headlines, computer-industry magazines and executive sound bites.

Where did this rather unpalatable bit of wisdom come from? Like dog food itself, its origins and precise composition are not entirely clear. But theories abound. Some give credit for the slogan to Gordon Bell, a senior researcher at Microsoft. The expression, Bell explains, refers to a company's using its software programs or products in their early stages - even if the process is somewhat disagreeable - as a way of testing them to improve quality. "We have to eat our own dog food to see if we get sick, find out how it tastes," he adds. Others point to John Rock, the former manager of GM's Oldsmobile division, who was quoted as saying, "We knew we would hit rock bottom in '97, and we would find out whether the dogs would eat the dog food in '98."

Still others have used the phrase to suggest that someone has an intimate knowledge of what they are selling--like a dog-food salesman who is so taken with his product's quality that he has sampled it himself.

We live in a Darwinian dog-eat-dog world, where only the hungry succeed. It was no different in the canine culture in Jesus' day. Political realities made people hungry for the truth - or at least their perception of truth. As in our time when truth often matters less than political expediency, people were barking and biting on the day Jesus stood before Pilate.

In today's text, it is not Jesus, but Pilate, who raises the philosophical question: What is truth? He knows what the truth is; he is just loathe to acknowledge it. It is not politically advisable to release Jesus--what with a raging, riot-sized mob at his gate demanding death. Pilate clearly recognizes how to protect his own doghouse, how to guard his own backyard.

This week's gospel lesson comes straight from the climactic center of John's passion narrative. This confrontation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, who represents Roman authority, symbolizes Jesus' kingship and his divine qualification for judging the entire world.

Pilate's "judgment hall" that is mentioned in v33 was the "praetorium," the headquarters of the Roman prefect when he was in town (possibly the old palace of Herod the Great). Immediately prior to today's text, Pilate had stepped outside the protective walls of the "praetorium" to meet with Jesus' priestly accusers. Pilate's presence in Jerusalem during the festival of Passover was designed to discourage the throngs of visitors to the city from rioting in the streets. By going out to meet with the priests, reluctantly agreeing to hear Jesus' case and now launching a formal inquiry into the charges against Jesus, Pilate is dealing swiftly with a potentially disruptive situation.

Finally facing Jesus, Pilate conducts his formal "cognito," or inquiry, into "the truth" of what has been said and done. Pilate's first words to Jesus are in the form of a question: "Are you the King of the Jews?" The "you" Pilate uses here is emphatic, suggesting a question that drips with scorn. If Jesus claims "kingship," then Pilate's job is essentially done. By claiming to be king, Jesus has committed treason against the Roman emperor, and thus should be sentenced to death.

Jesus' replies in verse 34, "Do you ask this on your own?" Jesus challenges Pilate's personal knowledge of Jesus and the charges that have been leveled against him. The question suggests that Pilate only knows what "others tell you about me." Jesus reminds Pilate that he has no "evidence" against Jesus except the hearsay evidence of priests.

Pilate's response is contemptuous. The most literal reading of Pilate's first retort is "I am not a Jew, am I?" As a public official, a political leader, an important Roman citizen, Pilate has no reason to wallow in the concerns of the bothersome, insignificant Jewish inhabitants of this land. His declaration, however, also serves to indicate that he is not in alliance with the Jewish authorities who brought Jesus to him. This is a Jewish problem - Jews accusing another Jew - and thus nothing Pilate would deign to get involved in. Only the suggestion that Jesus' words may be seen as treasonous against Rome has forced Pilate to ask one simple question - "What have you done?" (v. 35).

Jesus' reply does not let Pilate off the hook. He does not answer Pilate directly but instead begins to discuss the nature of his kingdom. Jesus has a kingdom and he is a king, but he does not make that announcement outright. And the "kingdom" Jesus describes certainly does not meet with any Roman understanding of the term. Jesus proclaims his kingdom is "not from this world." (v. 36). As proof, Jesus points out that he has no soldiers, no armies, no lawyers that are fighting for his freedom - an observation that resonated with an official of the militarily based Roman Empire.

By forcefully claiming a kingdom "not from this world," Jesus defines the nature of his messianic identity. The Jews were waiting for a Davidic messiah - another glorious warrior-king who would free them from foreign dominion and establish the holy Kingdom of Israel. This is not Jesus' identity or intent. Jesus was a messiah in the tradition of Moses--one who will lead his people to a new kingdom, not one created by military might, but a nation wholly dependent on God for its existence. This is a nation unlike any known political entity. It is, indeed, a kingdom "not from this world."

Pilate's response demonstrates just how desperately he does not want to become sucked into the intricacies of such a debate and the legal ramifications they might have on Jesus' case. He grasps at the only logical if tangential conclusion he can draw from Jesus' circular reply: If Jesus has a "kingdom" he must then be a "king." Jesus' response in verse 37 refuses to give Pilate a break by actually confessing kingship. Jesus merely repeats Pilate's own accusation back to him. The emphatic "you" demonstrates the claim is Pilate's - "You say that I am a king."

Jesus' final words to Pilate in this first interview once again demarcate the otherworldly character of his job description. He says that he "came into the world, to testify to the truth." This is a job description that thwarts Pilate's attempt to find evidence of treason against Jesus. Pilate wants to talk about Jesus' claim to "kingship." Jesus instead talks about "truth."

In v38, when Pilate responds to Jesus' comments on "truth" with the question "What is truth?", he may merely have been making a scornful, under-the-breath snort. In light of the way Jesus' trial proceeds from this point forward, such scorn would seem well-justified. But Pilate's question may also reflect his inability to adapt his understanding of the nature of truth to as found in Jesus.

Truth in the Greco-Roman understanding was purely a cognitive function, an intellectual proposition. For Pilate, rooted in Greek intellectualism and Roman pragmatism, truth was something one thought. Jesus declares himself born "to testify to the truth," and claims as his own those who "belong to the truth." "Truth" for Jesus is not merely something that is thought - truth is felt, truth is acted out, truth is lived.

In Hebraic culture, there is no such thing as a separate intellect. Mind, body and emotions are inextricably bound together. The root meaning of the Hebrew emet, "truth," is "trustworthy" or "faithful." In Hebrew, "truth" is a term more descriptive of a person than any intellectual proposition ( see Ian Pitt-Watson, "God's Truth," The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 7 [1986], 67-75).

Pilate shakes his head and wonders "What is truth?" Jesus' words are describing "WHO is truth?" - namely, the one who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life."

The truth is, Jesus hasn't done anything against Roman law. Pilate, who's no simpleton, knows this. Yet he's in a bit of a political jam. He smells what's in the wind and he's not about to eat his own dog food. He'll leave that meal to Jesus.

Eating his own dog food would mean setting Jesus free, resisting the clamor of the horde, maybe causing some sort of spontaneous uprising, something to be avoided at any cost - which ironically, was one of the worries of the temple leaders about Jesus himself, leaders who now use the possibility of an uprising to their own advantage. Politics, politics ... everything is politics.

Even if an uprising didn't get unleashed, the mob circles Pilate with a not-so-subtle threat to tattletale to Rome. The pack barks for him, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor" (John 19:12).

Pilate is forced to choose between a king in Rome, or the king who stands before him now. Pilate knows the truth, but he also knows, politically at least, that it's best to let big sleeping dogs lie - especially when you're a little dog chained to the emperor's doghouse.

Like Pilate we know the truth about Jesus. Yet the truth we know about him isn't the truth Pilate knows. Pilate knows Jesus is innocent of any crime. Pilate also knows who fills his dinner dish, who pours his gravy, who holds his leash. He chooses his master. And we choose ours, since we know Jesus was, Jesus is - the Christ.

So we choose Christ. What does it mean, then, for a Christian to eat his own dog food? Often enough it means being true to Christ, and true to ourselves. In simplest terms, it means putting faith into action, avoiding hypocrisy, loving our enemies, stressing integrity and quality, being truthful and honest, nourishing ourselves on foundational beliefs, and developing an intimate knowledge of what and whom we're "selling." It means that the twin rails of faith and praxis run parallel, ensuring that when the truth train leaves the station it won't immediately tumble off the tracks.

To know God, we must choose to live God, to practice the presence of God. And to know faith, we must live faith. To do that we have to understand what it is we do believe, which is why it is so important to gather on Sunday mornings to consume the Word, to draw together in fellowship, to drink the water of life from the same bowl - in short, to eat our own dog food.

Like sly curs who can somehow differentiate a trustworthy person from an untrustworthy one, the spiritual seekers of the 21st century are not going to be attracted to a church that doesn't eat its own dog food. They'll sniff out the hypocrisy on the wind quicker than a Beaglescents a rabbit.

Dogs can't be fooled the way people can. A dog senses fear. A dog hears what we can't hear, smells what we can't smell. A dog might eat anything and roll in dead fish believing it is perfume, but a dog will never trust a person, or a group of people, or a church of people, who prove untrustworthy, who prove hypocritical and insincere.

The lesson is that we need to be open and loving people. We need to be transparently true to Christ.. That is the best witness there is. That is the best evangelism there is.

Charles Moore, in an article called "The powerful witness of community,"[Beyond Argument,} tells the following story:

Alan and I met 20 years ago. We were both students at Cal Poly. I was a freshman and he was a junior. As a physics major, Alan was intelligent and articulate. How Alan got on with his studies, however, is still a mystery to me; Alan was virtually blind. He could see well enough to get from one place to another, but when it came to reading it was a different story. I can still see Alan, his face two inches away from some text, arduously pecking away at each of his assignments. Alan not only got straight A's, but he later returned to Cal Poly as a physics instructor.

Although Jewish in background, Alan was extremely skeptical of anything religious. He was well read and well versed, and he argued his doubt like a scientist. Alan was an agnostic. He could not find enough evidence to warrant belief in God.

Alan was usually happy to discuss religious subjects, which always gave us Christians some hope. But even more intriguing was how he liked to hang out with us. Alan didn't have many friends. He was rather unattractive, much too serious, and totally dependent on others for any kind of transportation. But we tried to reach out to him as best we could. Alan knew he could come with us to the beach or on one of our midnight runs to Taco Bell. We tried to include Alan in anything we were doing.

One evening, something happened. Though I wasn't there at the time, a bunch of friends had gotten together for a praise night on the beach. Alan came along to enjoy the sunset and roaring bonfire. By the time the evening was over, Alan had made a commitment to follow Jesus. No one had spoken to him, nor did anyone even know. The next day he came to me to tell me what had happened.

"But, Alan," I said, "what made you decide?"

"You see, Chuck," he told me, "it came to me last night, while everyone was singing around the fire, that whenever I am around you Christians I am happy. Even when we disagree with each other, I find myself liking to be with Christians."

"But, Alan, I thought you were never going to become a believer unless there was first enough evidence."

"Yes, Chuck," he replied, "But that's precisely why I now believe. It's how you all love each other that strikes me most. I never considered that evidence before. A good scientist, you know, considers all the facts. I simply have not found the love you Christians have for each other anywhere else. That is evidence enough for me that Jesus is Lord."

So you see, even though those Christians witnessed to Alan verbally, the witness that counted was the truth they lived. So it is with us. Amen.

Source: Bryant, Adam. "The New Power Breakfast: Why executives are obsessed with eating dog food." Newsweek, May 15, 2000, 52.



If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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