nicodemus and the light

Posted By on Apr 8, 2016

(cyprian on Jn 3:16-21) This passage is a continuation of a longer passage from chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, which in the lectionary we begin the day before and continue the day after. But we have to see it in the context of the rest of this narrative and discourse. I want to try to catch the significance of what I think is the central line in this passage; Jesus says, ‘the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light…’ That seems to pick up on the Prologue of John’s Gospel (vs. 4): The light shines in the darkness, and that darkness did not overcome it. But the image plays out in other places in the Gospel of John, too. When Jesus is on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead he tells his disciples, who are warning him against going to Bethany because the Jews had tried to stone him last time he was there, and he gives them kind of a koan, a non-sequitur answer: ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ Isn’t that interesting? ‘Because the light is not in them.’ Remember also that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night (3:2), which we heard about yesterday. The fact that he came to Jesus by night must be important because later, when this same Nicodemus comes to help in the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial, John reintroduces him in the same way, as Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus by night (19:39). When he first came, he was in the dark; when he takes the risk to come to bury Jesus, he is a believer, no longer in the night. So the night plays an important symbolic role in the gospels and especially in the Gospel of John. It seems to symbolize both ignorance in general and specifically the ignorance of not believing in Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, Jesus as the speaker of Truth. So it begs the question, why do people not believe in Jesus? But there is a bigger question too, a more general one, that applies to more than just belief or non-belief in Jesus: why do we hate the light? Why do we prefer ignorance? I think the two can be tied together. Let’s keep in mind, especially as shown in Mark’s Gospel, that even Jesus’ closest disciples don’t get it, don’t...

Read More

a tough day on the planet

Posted By on Apr 3, 2016

(cyprian, mercy sunday) There was a bumper sticker I saw once (some of you know I quote this every now and then), that touched me very deeply and affected my whole attitude and outlook on life. God can even speak through bumper stickers sometimes! This one meant as much to me than a scripture quote or some nice platitude about God. It was simply this: “Be kind; it’s been a tough day on the planet for everyone.” For example, I traveled extensively for some years and found myself in crowded airports too many times. Sometimes there would be long lines and delays. And I was amazed by how horrible and rude people could be, shoving there way through crowds and, worst of all, speaking rudely to and sometimes even yelling at the poor attendants behind the counter, as if they had caused the problem or could fix it! And this bumper sticker would come to my mind, and I would think to myself (and be tempted to say out loud), “Be kind; it’s been a tough day on the planet for everyone.” I suppose I’ve thought of “mercy” as a soft, fuzzy thing, a kind of ephemeral thing, usually associated with a kind of condescension. But I’m finding out that it is the toughest thing around. It’s easy to be mean, it’s easy to be sarcastic, it’s easy to be dismissive; it’s easy to be a bully. It takes a lot of work to be merciful, to be kind, to be compassionate. It’s not a big far off thing either; it’s not just about some people far away in a war torn country or some abstract poor sinners living in squalor on the streets or in crack dens. Mercy is really the way we walk around each day interacting with each other, too, maybe even more. I remember another saying I heard once, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.” Mercy is very particular, very local. It’s not about humanity; it’s about the person in front of me. I’ve been listening to some teachings by a Tibetan teacher who is also a psychologist recently, Tara Brach. The Buddhist tradition is particularly brilliant in their teaching about compassion, and the way they talk about it, it seems to be what we are really aiming at with mercy. (And those two words––mercy and compassion––are practically synonymous in the Abrahamic tradition anyway, as you’ll see.) There were two things she said that I found very practical. One is that the reason we sometimes can’t feel empathy for others (and therefore, mercy) is that we are not embodied enough. Real compassion is...

Read More