Gospel of Luke 11:33-36
Jesus said, ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.’
Gospel of Thomas 24
Jesus’ followers said, “Show us the place where you are, because it is necessary that we seek it.”
He said to them, “Whoever has ears to hear, hear! There is light within a person of light. And that one lights up the entire world. If that one does not shine, there is darkness.”
Jesus here is teaching about light and darkness. He makes it clear that this is about seeing or not seeing, this is not about black and white – this is about whether our eyes are healthy or unhealthy to see things clearly for what they are. If we were all dolphins (always fun to imagine), he would be talking about sound and silence, not light and darkness, he’d be talking about ecolocation. This is about how we come to know the shape and texture and color and movement of what is real.
So when Jesus is teaching about the Light that shines in the darkness, he’s talking about the Truth that illuminates things, he’s talking about the way we become aware of things as they are. The way we become aware of things as they are is to see by the Light of God, which is the Light that shines in Christ and that, Jesus teaches, can shine through us. This is the Light of truth and love that can set us free.
But how? How does it set us free? And free from what?
Jesus is talking about a God-Light, filling our bodies, our whole bodies, so that no part of us is in darkness, every part is something that we can see in the light of God’s truth and love.
We’ve got parts of ourselves that lurk and skulk around in darkness, parts of ourselves that we are not aware of, that we pretend don’t exist. But however much we pretend, these parts of ourselves still do exist and they still have a hold on us. Keeping them in the darkness just strengthens the hold they have on us – monsters grow in the shadows.
So what am I talking about? The stuff that skulks in the darkness. Often times it’s aggression or anger we don’t want to admit, or sexual drive we’re not aware of, or grief that’s been too painful to feel fully, or hopes we’ve given up on, or bad memories, or resentment or judgment or prejudice we pretend we’re too good for. It can also be a potential we can to grow into but we’re pushing away, a creative inspiration we’ve brushed, or even joy, gratitude, beautiful ways that we connect with others that seem too overwhelming to fully experience. We can push lots of different things out of sight into the shadows. This gives us a restricted vision of who we are and who we can be. This restriction can trap us, and it can make us trap other people. It can harm us, and it can make us harm other people.
When we do something we regret, afterwards we said, “Whoa, I don’t know what got into me”? But it isn’t that something that got into us, it’s that this thing has been in us all along and got out all of a sudden. We weren’t aware that it was in us, so we’re surprised when we’re spitting venom or lashing out against someone we love or what have you.
And, again, it can also be positive things. When we surprised ourselves by doing something we didn’t know we could do, afterwards we say, “Whoa, I didn’t know I had it in me”? That’s right. We don’t know our full potential, especially with spiritual matters. When we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit, we can surprise ourselves with kindness or inspiration or creativity.
This teaching of Jesus – “Don’t cover up the light, let it shine for all to see, let it fill you whole self and shine out from you!” – we usually take it in the positive sense. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” This is great. God fills us with the light of truth and love, so let us share that, for we are all children of the living God. That’s enough for a lifetime. What more can we ask for?
But … we usually pass over just how challenging Jesus is being with what he’s saying about the light and the darkness. Jesus is insisting that the light of divine awareness confront the parts of ourselves that fight tooth and nail to stay in the shadows.
Jesus gives this teaching about the light under the basket in the middle of what is a pretty harsh speech, in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is in full on prophet mode. He calling out all kinds of hypocrisy. He’s pointing to all of these vicious ways that his society is treating people and is denying the Way of the Realm of God. He’s saying, “Look! You all act like you’re so holy and pure and high and mighty, but look, look at how you’re actually behaving. And you’re not going to get away with it. All this is all going to blowback against you, really bad … Unless …”
… Unless you let the Light of God shine into those shadow places, and you admit what is actually there. This Light of God can feel harsh at first, because it forces us to get real, to get honest about what is actually there within each of us and within all of us, all the forces that can make us twisted.
But this Light of Truth, however harsh at times, is also the Light of Love. This is the Light of unconditional love. It liberates us as it illuminates our shadows. We see that what we thought were monsters are actually not so scary. What we thought were wild primal drives can become tame companions that can lend us strength. What we thought were guilty secrets are actually places for grace to blossom. All the cracks and broken places in us where shadows gather become windows for the light to shine through.
The Good News is that God loves us for who we are. So we can be honest about who we are, in all our brokenness and all our beauty. We can be honest and quit causing so many troubles for ourselves and other people.
My prayer is that for each of us and all of us, our whole bodies, our whole beings may be open to this Light. It can come slowly, it can come suddenly, but it comes when we say “Yes” to it. May you be filled with the Light of God’s truth and love.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered on July 24, 2016, at the First Congregational Church of Walla Walla by Nathaniel Mahlberg)
Image: “Raphaelesque Head Exploding” by Salvador Dali