Based on John 8:12-20
The author of the Fourth Gospel repeatedly uses metaphor and symbol to help us understand who Jesus is. In this Gospel, Jesus says of himself, “I am: the Door; the Good Shepherd; the Bread of Life; the Way; the Resurrection and the Life; and the Light of the World.” There is some context surrounding each of these, and for today’s reading, it could be this: Jesus and the disciples have just finished celebrating the seven-day Festival of Booths, also called Tabernacles. The festival includes a variety of ceremonies, one of which involves the lighting of great lights in the Temple, enough to light up Jerusalem.
So when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” that’s a prompt for us to open our Bibles. There are countless allusions to ‘light’ and its association with God in the Old Testament. Right off the bat in Genesis, God creates light before creating the heavenly lights of the sun, the moon, and the stars, and God calls the light good. This is the light of the created world, by the word of God. Bear that in mind when we think of Jesus as the light of the world.
This God-given light also gives understanding. It gives life and salvation. It gives joy. It is good. God dwells in light, covered with it as if it were a garment, as in Psalm 104. God is light, in Psalm 27. And in Psalm 43, when we come to the light, we come to God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God gives light to the faithful. Isaiah says, in chapter 60, “The Lord will be your everlasting light.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Word first spoken by God: “Let there be light.” Jesus, then, is the source of light and life, and, he says, “Whoever follows me will have the light of life,” that those who walk with Jesus in faith and trust become sons and daughters of light.
But there is darkness too, and it is foreshadowed here when Jesus mentions how the Pharisees judge by human standards, by their own laws, not God’s. Because if they knew God themselves, if they walked in light, they wouldn’t be having this conversation with Jesus.
In the very next passage, Jesus foretells his own death. And then Judas went out from the last supper at night. In Luke, when Jesus is arrested in the Garden – at night – he tells the mob, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’” (Luke 22:53)
There is a modern saying that nothing good happens after midnight.
If you’re playing a bracket in the NCAA tournament, you understand that the wisdom of the crowd is often wrong. Films like Twelve Angry Men show how a lone juror can hold out for the truth and simultaneously earn the wrath and contempt of his fellow jurors. Yet in this film, the dissenting juror was right, and an innocent man went free. We struggle to live up to a high standard of justice, both in crafting our laws and in how we administer them.
Outside the world of cinema, it is still true in some cultures that a woman needs four male witnesses to report a sexual assault. We see how this is inherently problematic but, in those cultures, that’s how it is, and our saying it is wrong won’t change a thing.
Elizabeth Achtemeier wrote that the church cannot do evil and claim to be good; it cannot walk in darkness and claim to have light. She says the church is called to be “the body through which God’s light shines forth to all the world.”
In Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 5, Jesus tells us to turn on the light in dark places, and it will be noticed. James Thompson wrote of this challenge that Jesus means, among other things, that in a world where people do not tell the truth, we must keep our word; where others live for revenge, turn the other cheek; in a world of violence, learn self-control; and where hatred rules, love those who do not love us.
Jesus brings light to the entire created world. Large parts of it may be broken but God’s light removes all darkness. We are invited to stand within the light and live the life Jesus offers.