March 18, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s gospel is in John 8:12-20.
Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified.” Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I now where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone. And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.” So they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the treasury in the temple area. But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
Jesus was speaking in the Court of the Women in the temple on the Feast of the Tabernacles. The evening of the first night was a ceremony called the Illumination of the Temple during which four huge golden torches were lit. All night long “the greatest and the wisest and the holiest men in Israel danced before the Lord and sang psalms of joy and praise while the people watched,” according to Barclay. Jesus used this symbolism to preach that he was the light that never went out, that he kept the darkness at bay always, not just one night a year. The light was the symbol for knowledge and goodness while the darkness represented hiding in secrecy and evil and death. Light gives life just as the sun gives life.
Barclay tells us that this claim of Jesus would have been especially anathema to the Pharisees. “The word light was specially associated in Jewish thought and language with God.” To them Jesus was making the claim to be the Messiah and to do what only God could do. “The Rabbis declared that the name of the Messiah was Light. When Jesus claimed to be the Light of the World, he was making a claim than which none could possibly be higher.” So, the Pharisees argued with Jesus, refuting his claim as unverifiable.
Isn’t it a tragedy that the greatest, wisest, and holiest Jews danced and sang praises to God yet repudiated the enfleshed God in their midst? Those who thought they knew everything and were closest to God, who observed His laws — indeed even worked out the regulations enforcing the law — who judged the worthiness of men, who held themselves above others, were dancing in darkness. The light of God wasn’t within them, because the spirit of God had been expelled, too full of themselves to have room for God. The people who had been chosen by God as His own had instead chosen to walk in darkness. As Barclay writes, “Jesus bluntly told the scribes and Pharisees that they had no real knowledge of God. The fact that they did not recognize him for who and what he was the proof that they did not. The tragedy was that the whole history of Israel had been designed so that the Jews should recognize the Son of God when he came; but they had become so involved with their own ideas, so intent on their own way, so sure of their own conception of what religion was that they had become blind to God.”
Jesus tells me that if I follow him, meaning that I try to emulate his life and live according to his teaching, that I will truly have life and give life. It also means in part not judging others to which I am so prone. I am not above anyone else, not better in any way morally or intellectually or capably. God is not going to judge me in comparison to anyone else, only according to my desire and effort to submit to His will.
I think that any inclination to think that ours is the one, true church or that our nation is exceptional or that any group I associate with is superior to another is akin to dancing in the darkness. That is judging by appearances, by superficialities, in ignorance or arrogance. Jesus preached humility, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He’s inviting me to follow him into the light of life, to give life to others so that I might be among the last who shall be first.