4th SUNDAY OF LENT
11th March 2018
Deacon Tony van Vuuren
John’s gospel uses the imagery of light and darkness to point out the choice we have to make between faith and non faith, between truth and lies, between love and self-centredness – not only in our individual lives, but in the values and attitudes that are held in common, in our community at large.
John described Jesus’ appearance in the history of the world as the coming of God’s light into the darkness of human affairs. He writes about the darkness as a way of summing up the net weight, as it were, of human ignorance and evil and lies. Whereas standing in the light, or walking in the light, means opting for the good, for truth, and love, and faith in God.
The conflict between spiritual light and darkness that John talks about takes place on different levels. On one level it takes place in the conscience of every individual person.
The second level is within whole communities and societies that also have a moral character or a moral atmosphere. Goodness and evil aren’t just individual qualities; they also have a communal or a corporate aspect,
Time only allows us to touch on the individual level.
Men and women who’ve gone through a conversion – not necessarily a religious conversion as such, but any realisation that they’re going in the wrong direction followed by a decision to turn their lives around – very often describe their experience as seeing the light, or a “dawning” of the truth. They begin to feel a strong obligation to cultivate integrity and all the wholesome qualities of character.
But it also happens the other way: sometimes people who start out as considerate and compassionate characters override their conscience and allow themselves to act against their better instincts because the right moral values don’t necessarily generate any rewards.
It might be because we’re ambitious or because we want to make plenty of money – or it could be something like bearing a grudge or pursuing a vendetta – but the result is that we allow selfish motives to corrupt our character and, in John’s language, we fall into darkness. Our increasingly ruthless and aggressive “enterprise culture”, for example, can easily drive the qualities of kindliness and selflessness out of our relationships.
Part of the message of John’s gospel is that nobody’s life, morally and spiritually, is static: we’re always confronted with the choice of either moving into greater light, or of sliding back into the dark. Light, for us, means living in communion with Christ: everything else proceeds from that. We can’t take it for granted that we will safely remain in that greater light once we have reached it.
John says to us today, “Whoever does what is true (or good) comes out into the light.” Coming to the light is conditional on doing good. It’s not the one who speculates about what is good, but the one who does the good who comes to the light.
The shortest journey to the light is by doing the good. But we don’t always act like this in practice.
Normally what we do is we try to achieve a state of inner peace, and then do the peaceful deed. We try to attain a state of joy and gratitude, and then do the joyful and grateful thing. But often we have to do the opposite. We have to perform a peaceful act in order to achieve inner peace. We have to do the joyful or grateful deed in order to experience inner joy and gratitude. In the same way, if we are in darkness, and we do the good deed, then most certainly the light will shine for us. When there is attraction to the darkness it can be very real and powerful.
As St. Paul states in his letter to the Romans – “The very things I do not want to do, I do, and the very things I do want to do, I do not.” Most of us can identify with this and the choices to be made are clearly defined between darkness and light.
We have to accept that there is darkness in our lives and in our world. We have to recognize that darkness and learn to live in relationship with it. It is futile to wait for the darkness to go away. We wish it would; but we have to accept that it is here, and will always be here.
What we mustn’t do is call the darkness light! When we do that we get trapped by it. When we recognise it and call it darkness we can learn how to live so that the darkness does not overcome us. When everything is permissible we have failed to distinguish between light and dark.
There is also the complex problem of choice that exists as competing sources of light — or that which appears as light. They are not evil — just lesser goods that can be attractive enough to steal away our attention to the true light of our life — Jesus Christ.
Those of us who have come to know the love and joy of God do not deny the darkness, but we choose not to live in it. We trust in the light that shines in the darkness, and know that a little light can dispel a lot of darkness. The light of Christ is such that no darkness can overpower it.
Light, for us, means living in communion with Christ: everything else proceeds from that; inviting Christ to work in us and through us, so that when we act and speak, it’s Christ who’s acting and speaking