The Daily Bread, 22nd April 2020: The choice is yours.
Readings: Acts 5:17-26; Psalm 33(34):2-9; John 3:16-21
Our opening hymn was, “O, let all who thirst come to the water” (from Isaiah 55; cf. John 7). The water is there. Do you want it? If you do, then come and receive it.
The Gospel today tells us that the Father so loved the world that he gave his only Son. His Son is the water. The Gospel goes on: so that all who believe in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. To have eternal life, to have the water, you need to come to him, that is, you need to believe in him.
All that the Son of God has done by becoming man and enduring the Cross and rising again shows how far he has come to meet us, the lengths to which he has gone to make himself, the water of life, available to us.
But he will not force himself on us. He has come so, so far. We need to go the little distance left towards him, like a child that can hardly walk taking that one step it can muster to fall into the hands of its father.
Jesus puts all this in another way, too, today. He says that the Light has come into the world, meaning himself. The light illuminates, it makes things transparent, translucid. But again the question is, do I want the light? Do I want to be seen, to be transparent and translucid to myself and to others?
Jesus says that the man who lives by the truth comes into the light. Notice again that there is a “coming” towards Jesus, a movement by the individual towards the light so that it can be seen that what he does is done in God.
This coming of the Son, of the Light, puts us before the choice: either to come to him by believing in him, or not; either to come into the Light, or not. That choice is man’s greatness and his drama.
Our deeds may be evil, but if we choose to come into the Light so that the Light shows them up as evil, that evil can be taken away from us if we surrender to the Light, if we repent. Repentance then allows the Light to flood our whole being so that our deeds are done in truth, they are no longer false, dark or dead. All of this is the same as saying that we come to the Son, we believe in the Son sent not to condemn us but to save us, and we accept his salvation, we accept him as our salvation.
But if we choose not to believe, that is, to remain in the dark with the evil deeds we do, then we have condemned ourselves. It is not Jesus who condemns us: he came to save, not to condemn. It is not He who condemns us because of our sins, but we who condemn ourselves because of our sins. It is not he, the Light, who consigns us to the darkness, but we do it ourselves by not accepting the Light.
People today often say that they feel condemned, judged by Jesus, the Pope, the priest, the Church. They say that by telling them that a deed is evil, they are rejecting them and judging them. In the light of today’s Gospel, however, it is clear that it is not the Word of God as contained in the Gospel or as elaborated and taught by the Church that is condemning anyone. On the contrary, the Word is Light, it is throwing Light on what is evil. The Word is thus a gift to the person committing the evil deed, because it is showing them the truth of what is damaging them. It is like the doctor diagnosing a serious illness. No-one condemns a doctor for doing his job, but wants his help to get the treatment needed to get out of the illness.
Likewise, the Word of Truth, of Light, is spoken not to condemn, but to save. But if someone rejects the Word of Light and condemns it as evil for making them feel condemned, then that person is calling the Light darkness. By implication, they are calling their own darkness, their own evil deed, light. They cast the Light as evil because they will not accept their own evil, lest they have to break with it and lose all the imaginary advantages they have been duped into embracing.
But it is not the individual person who decides what the light is or, therefore, what darkness is. It is the Word who is Light. And so, if I refuse the Light, if I call my own darkness light, then I am lost, I have judged myself, I have condemned myself. As the prophet Isaiah says: “woe to those who call good evil and evil good, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter….Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes the straw, and as dry grass shrivels in the flame, so their roots will decay and their blossoms will blow away like dust; for they have rejected the instruction of the Lord of Hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5). These rather graphic words describe the self-condemnation and self-destruction of those who reject the Light of God.
Nor can we imprison the Word or the Light as the Sanhedrin tried to do in the first reading by putting Peter and John in jail. The angel of the Lord released them and sent them back to the Temple to proclaim the Word of Life. Many today want to imprison the Word and the teaching of the Church on matters of morals and faith. It has been being done subtly, but is becoming more and more blatant. Today, the real Truth is demonized as inhuman and contrary to enlightened man. Whereas things that the Truth condemns as evil are being exalted as rights, duties, enlightened and liberated thinking.
If we resist the Light, then we condemn ourselves. If we come to the Light, then we allow the Lord to free and redeem us.
But how to I break free from the chains my sins have forged to hold me back? How do I walk towards the Light? How do I truly believe in Jesus instead of paying him lip-service?
It is not I who breaks the chains. He does. On another occasion, St. Peter was in prison alone, heavily guarded. The angel of the Lord came to him, while he thought he was dreaming, and the chains which held him to the wall just dropped from his wrists. There is a statue in the Vatican Gardens which captures the expression on Peter’s face when the chains drop. One of astonishment mixed with the realization he was free. All he had to do was get up and walk towards the gate and it opened of its own accord, i.e. by the hand of the angel. “This poor man called, the Lord heard him, and rescued him from all his distress” (Psalm 33).
It is the Lord who frees us. He only asks us to get up, to walk, that is, to make a first prayer asking him to free us. To make it sincerely, resolutely. To then seek the practical means of getting closer to him; to take decisions in daily life that manifest my will to go to him, to be his. That’s walking towards him, that’s believing in him; that’s doing what you can to show him you mean it when you ask him to let the chains fall from your wrists and the prison gate to open to let you out of the darkness.
Don’t call your chains freedom or your darkness light. Let go of the illusion, and even if it costs you a little grief and labour, it will bring you into the glory and beauty of the Lord’s reality – and of your own.
And so, again, the words of the hymn: “O, let all who thirst, let them come to the water.” The Lord does not condemn you for being thirsty: he offers you living water. The Lord does not condemn you for standing in the dark: he offers you the Light of life. The Lord does not condemn you for your sins: he offers you forgiveness and healing.
But the choice is yours.