Walking in the dark

A few years ago, I had the privilege of teaching several sessions for a local congregation’s family retreat at a Christian conference ground in the hills above Southern California. I stayed in one of the rooms reserved for pastors and speakers, a quiet little cottage that was a short walk away from the other facilities.

At the end of the evening session, the young man who was providing tech support asked me if I had brought a flashlight. No, I answered, wondering a bit why he asked. Flashlights are for looking under furniture, and I wasn’t planning to do any of that on the retreat.

“Here,” he said, “you’re going to want this.” He handed me a spare flashlight; he had brought two. Obviously, he knew something I didn’t.

He was right, of course. Although my cottage was lit out front, the path leading to it was pitch black. I was glad for the light.

As we’ve seen in previous posts, the crowds who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrated Jesus’ arrival, with shouts and songs proclaiming their hope that he would be the long-awaited Messiah-King who would rescue them from the oppressive presence of Rome. But when Jesus started talking in unexpected ways about death, they pressured him for an explanation. Wait, wait, wait. The Law says that Messiah will live forever. What’s this stuff about the Son of Man being “lifted up”? What are you saying? 

His answer, not surprisingly, was a bit cryptic, going back to the metaphor that crops up over and over in the gospel of John:

The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light. (John 12:35-36, CEB)

When I read statements like this, my first reaction is that Jesus is being unnecessarily evasive. I’m a professor, and work hard at giving clear explanations of difficult material.

But this wasn’t a classroom. It’s not as if people were unwilling to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Nor does faith come merely by being presented with a neatly arranged set of logical propositions. The problem is not that the people couldn’t understand, but that they didn’t want to — because he was saying things they didn’t want to hear. What are you saying, Jesus? Messiah can’t die. Don’t toy with us.

Think back to the earlier altercation at the Festival of Dedication. His opponents surrounded him and demanded, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). Jesus’ response: “I have told you, and you don’t believe” (vs. 25). If later, at Passover, Jesus could be so loudly and enthusiastically acclaimed by the crowd, what else could he say in the face of their reservations and doubts?

Just this: You may not realize it, but you’re walking in darkness. You don’t where you’re going and you’re stumbling about. You want to be enlightened? Then please believe what I’ve already told you: I am the light of the world. But my time here is almost done. Take advantage of the opportunity while you have the chance.

John doesn’t tell us directly how the people responded. But he does say, “After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them” (vs. 36).

I guess that’s what happens when you insinuate that people are stumbling around in the dark. They may not be glad for the light.