Posts Tagged ‘Light’

JOHN 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

We are told that this revelatory sign of feeding the multitude happened when “the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.” Put that together with the parallels between the First and New Testaments, of the provision of food in the wilderness (manna and quail/loaves and fish) and the deliverance through/over the water (Sea of Reeds/Sea of Galilee), and what you’ve got is a clear identification of Jesus as the New Moses. Jesus has come for our freedom, the writer is saying, and what we are set free from is ignorance, ego, and the fear of death. How these three conditions of our spiritual slavery fit and fuse together can be summarized as follows.

The price of self-consciousness (ego) is a gradual and somewhat anxious separation from the maternal reality. Through time we are gathering to ourselves greater degrees of control, autonomy, and individuality. These are not bad in themselves; in fact, they are necessary to the progress of our personal development as human beings. As the shadow side to all the gains and benefits of a healthy sense of self, however, we become increasingly aware of our vulnerability, our exposure to the erosions of mortality.

As our anxiety intensifies we try to compensate by attaching ourselves to whatever we hope will bring us security and happiness. It may be wealth and possessions, success and power, codependent relationships, or the afterlife rewards of religion. In the end we can no longer see through the knots and tangles of our attachments to the real truth of our existence.

Jesus came to emancipate us from this enslaved condition. By the path of love, we are enabled to rise into the light of truth and enjoy a life authentic and free. Love, Light, and Life: the three great themes of John’s Gospel.

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JOHN 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

As the author of the Fourth Gospel sees it, the reception of Jesus by his disciples provided a clearing through the silt where the anchor of hope could fasten into the bedrock below. Technically speaking, God’s Life, Life, and Love – the great themes of John’s Gospel – become revelation only when the veils of human ignorance, spiritual lethargy, and moral indifference are pulled aside in moments of personal faith.

Until then, the glory and voice of the Divine continue unabated  but without penetration, like the blazing sun above dark, heavy clouds. Once the veil parts, however, a connection is made, the energy is absorbed, and dormant seeds come to life and take root. That’s how it happened  in the first century: Jesus came, veils were removed, spiritual power and hope were released, and the thing took hold. You and I are descendants of that New Genesis in the first Christian community.

As descendants, we are inheritors of the faith treasures of long ago. But we are also progenitors in our own right, for the faith we hold today and test against the challenges and crises of our age will be what our children inherit in their turn. The revelation isn’t “once upon a time,” but here and now. God’s anchor of hope must take hold in our hearts. We are the present-day bearers of an eternal gospel, having received the liberating Word of God and looking for our moment to speak its truth.

JOHN 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” It would be easy to get distracted into a discussion on “the meaning of suffering” here, whether looking behind for a cause (in this case someone’s sin) or ahead for a purpose (“so that” God’s works might be revealed).

Let’s just say for now, that suffering doesn’t have to have a meaning at all. However cognitively disturbing or intellectually unsatisfying it may feel to just let it be, suffering – disability, illness, chronic pain, abuse, personal loss, relentless hardship, and even the mortal condition in general – might well be inherently meaningless.

Your spirituality and faith are no less genuine if you choose to regard suffering as absurd. The key thing in any case will be your ability to be present in the suffering and not explain it away, to be present to others in their suffering without reaching for one “justification” or another.

This passage is not really about suffering and its meaning (or absence of it). The man’s blindness is operating metaphorically as a condition of disorientation and being “in the dark” – a spiritual diagnosis of the human condition, according to many of the world’s wisdom traditions.

Every person is separated from the light-world of reality by a screen of ignorance, a condition which is compounded over time by the layering of additional veils with such names as assumption, belief, and certainty.

Physically blind people in the ancient world were commonly reduced to begging for their daily needs. This put them in a passive attitude with respect to the reality around them, as they awaited the charity of others. The ignorant certainty of many also keeps them in a position of passivity, laziness … even entitlement. They get to a point where they have resigned and turned in their key to the door of awakening and the liberated life.

                                                                                              

Instead of saying to the man, “Hocus, pocus, I command you to SEE!” Jesus made a mud paste and daubed it on his eyelids. “Go and wash.” 

The path out of darkness and into the light – from ignorance to understanding, from captivity to freedom – would require the man’s active effort. He needed to get on his feet and make his way to the Pool of Siloam to wash the mud from his eyes.

Once there, the man rinsed in the water – and was able to see!

Jesus performed this healing on a sabbath, which according to the rules was supposed to be a day for avoiding work, and making a mud poultice would have classified as “work.” This represents another tangent that we will forgo for now. One of the things that got him in trouble with the orthodoxy of his day was his insistence that human well-being always trumps religious obedience.

A cross of some kind typically awaits people like that.

The progression from darkness to light, then, called on the blind man – and on all human beings insofar as we are trapped behind our screens of ignorance and conviction – to take an active role in his liberation. Jesus wouldn’t let him sit there in passive expectancy, waiting around for something to happen.

Whatever fear he may have held concerning the risks involved in going on the unconventional prescription of a stranger – losing his begging post during rush-hour, getting lost in the streets, being ridiculed and shamed for his behavior – the man needed to step through the fear and do his part.

The religious leaders, still blind behind their orthodoxy, were unable to accept, much less comprehend, what had happened. This story is still playing out today …

ISAIAH 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a decisive threshold in the cultural evolution of Europe. Antecedent to it was the Renaissance, a literally ground-breaking flood of discoveries – long-lost Greek and Arabic texts on everything from physics and mathematics to philosophy and political theory, along with artefacts of ancient civilizations and the creative genius of the human spirit that is the wellspring of art, poetry, and music.

After the Reformation came the so-called Enlightenment, with the dramatic rise of rationalism, scientific materialism, and technology. It is truly baffling to contemplate how the earlier explosion of creativity and cultural rebirth in the Renaissance could have terminated in the sterile fields of the Industrial Age, with the soul disqualified from respectable science and the earth reduced to little more than a resource for technological progress. Baffling, that is, until we factor in the main achievement of the Reformation itself.

Such celebrated virtues as freedom, individuality, and personal conscience were not gifts of the Reformation, as is sometimes thought. These were actually the pillars of the European Renaissance. The outstanding achievement of the Reformation itself, in a sense capitalizing on these earlier advances but contradicting them as well, was its profound suspicion of human nature and its teaching of our universal depravity.

                                                                                       

While there had been some fairly minor traditions in pre-Reformation Christianity that were pessimistic over human worth and our potential for good, the reformers made this appraisal a centerpiece in their dogmatic systems. Any light, anything of positive value, even the will to do what is right and good was something, according to these new orthodoxies, that had to be brought in or deposited from outside.

In and of itself, human nature was seen as fallen, broken, corrupt, wicked and totally bereft of God. As the complement to and further development of this depressing philosophy, Reformation theories of salvation and the Atonement had to import such despicable notions as total depravity and the propitiation of a blood-thirsty deity.

But the Bible represents the human being in a much more positive light over all. Although we can find passages that speak to our limitations, brokenness, and tendencies toward selfishness and violence, the dominant perspective of the Bible on the subject affirms and celebrates the goodness and light that are already present, if presently dormant, in all of us.

In the end, it is not our “good works” that God wants so much as our goodness itself to be expressed in all that we are. The manifested goodness of the human being is the very light of God’s glory and grace shining out on the world. Isaiah’s challenge is our own today: Open up and let it shine!

ISAIAH 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

A prophet is one who is able to look beyond the conditions of current reality through a vision of future possibilities. Abraham Heschel has characterized the prophets of the Bible as individuals gifted with “depth perception,” where the envisioned possibilities of the future are in fact the concealed potentialities of the present. In other words, the prophet is able to discern the underground movement of history and seeks to bring this awareness to his or her contemporaries in parables of warning, consolation, and hope.

The eighth-century prophet Isaiah flourished during the rise of Assyria to world power, and his basic message was concerning the holiness (divine otherness) of God and the need for Israel to resist the temptation to protect herself against the Assyrian threat by building up her Department of Defense and forming alliances with neighboring nations.

To put her faith in such investments and strategies would amount to abandoning confidence and trust in God. “Pull yourselves together,” Isaiah urged, “and return to the faith you once had.”

It wasn’t a going back to some distant apostolic age that the prophet was advising, but a going within to the inner ground of spiritual power. Don’t misunderstand: neither was this a world-renouncing withdrawal into some sectarian fortress of ascetic practice or dogmatic fundamentalism. Instead it was a call to connect with the God who is the very ground and hope of existence itself.

                                                                                                  

Isaiah’s confidence in God, even in spite of his guarded optimism over the likelihood of his generation returning to faith, made him hopeful for Israel’s future. He was sure that God had brought this nation out of bondage and onto the world stage for a purpose, and that this purpose had not yet been fully realized.

This purpose would achieve greater clarity and focus through the ministry of Isaiah’s successor, the so-called Second Isaiah who took up the prophet’s main themes and transformed them for the situation of exile a century-and-a-half later.

One of the dominant themes of this tradition is that of light, explored for its attributes of radiance and warmth as well as its power to purify. Used poetically, light is also a metaphor for awareness and higher knowledge (fittingly called enlightenment).

The prophet looked with expectancy to the time when God’s truth would dispel the dark shroud of ignorance that blankets the collective consciousness of the world. His “land of deep darkness” is a poetic reference to the global conditions of spiritual confusion and dogmatic blindness, along with the violence, oppression, and suffering that spin out of these.

The thing about such prophet-mystics is that they know, because they’ve seen it, that the holy light of truth is already there beyond the veil of ignorance, shining in all the fullness of power. Now the veil just needs to be pulled aside.