In the stories leading up to this passage, we see the Pharisees dead-set on wielding the Scriptures against Jesus in order to prove some violation against the letter of the law. Just prior to this passage, they bring forth a woman caught in adultery, asking Jesus to condemn her. But Jesus, having mercy on her, turns the question around and instead asks the Pharisees to examine their own hearts. In response, they disperse – unable to handle the exposure of their own sin.
In the wake of this story, Jesus’ words in today’s passage carry new weight: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (v.12). He is persistent in pursuit of their hearts, offering himself as light—a light that both guides and exposes. That is the nature of light: it can be harsh, even blinding, to look at directly, but it’s essential for life and flourishing. In this way Jesus offers himself to the Pharisees, and likewise, to us. He offers himself as the one who can shine a light on our sins, the one who can truly illuminate the Scriptures, and the one who will guide us through our current darkness. In describing himself as light, Jesus is declaring his willingness to enter into our chaos, to expose, to walk with, to guide.
Even still, as the passage continues, the Pharisees respond with more attempts to catch him breaking the law. So Jesus (I imagine with some exasperation) responds: “…my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” (v.14-15). The pattern repeats: the Pharisees use the law to shame, to trap, and to hide their own sin. And yet Jesus, who is perfect, chooses to extend grace and to offer himself as light which will expose, purify, and guide us to new life.
Will we accept this gift? Or will we, like the Pharisees, continue to flee from having our own sin exposed at the expense of remaining in darkness?
During this season of Lent—which begins with the sobering reminder of Ash Wednesday and ends with the great hope of the resurrection, the ultimate bursting forth of Christ’s light—can we ask ourselves: In what areas of my life do I continue to dwell in darkness? What am I afraid to expose to the purifying light of Christ? How can I embrace the light of Christ here and now?
After five years in Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant, Mary Grace Kennedy (with her husband Judd) now calls H Street NE home. Things that make her smile include: being an aunt, when DC comes to life in the springtime, the post-sunset sky, and sipping coffee with the people that know her best--among many other ordinary wonders.