Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Coming Into The Light

I was fascinated to discover that this week's Gospel reading contains some very pertinent advice for anyone who is contemplating doing secret deals, like the ones the Labour Party – and other political parties – have done with donors.
'People love darkness rather than light,' it says, and they 'do not come to the light so that their deeds may not be exposed'.[1] The writer goes on to make the assumption - which many onlookers make when a secret is uncovered - that when people prefer secrecy and anonymity it is 'because their deeds are evil'. This may not be a fair assumption to make, but isn't transparency the only way of ensuring the true purity of our motives? If everyone knows what we are doing, and we tell them why we are doing it, they're less likely to harbour dark suspicions about what we are up to. If we come to the light, it suggests we have nothing to hide.
Of course, human nature is a bit more complicated than this. We can be incredibly devious when we want to be. We can tell everyone that our motive is only to do what is right and good, when – concealed beneath the surface – there is a very different motive which may be so unkind, or selfish, or unpleasant that we cannot even admit it to ourselves. So people will say that they are doing something for the sake of their children, or in the best interests of their family, or for the good of the church, or for the people they work with, when the truth is that they are doing it for their own benefit or to get even with someone – and they may not even realise this themselves.
Jesus is the one who brings secrets into the light. And that is the sense – and the only sense – in which he judges us. He doesn't point the finger, and he doesn't put us under some kind of harsh and unbearable spotlight, but – all the same – he does offer us the chance to find out what's really going on beneath the surface.
It's a bit like being in a dimly lit room. We can't always see clearly what's in the shadows or in the darkest corners; we can't pick out patterns or details; unless – as the comedian Peter Kaye put it in one of his stand-up routines – we turn on 'the big light'. Jesus is the big light, the light in the middle of the room that will bathe everything with a strong, and intense, but gentle illumination.
How do we know that the light of Christ is not harsh and piercing like a spotlight? Because St John's Gospel promises us that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save it.
I guess this is why the Archbishop of Canterbury has just given an interview to The Guardian in which he says that he is trying to resist the tendency – by the media – to 'press the button to have an Archbishop condemning x, y or z'. That, he says, is what Archbishops seem to be expected to do. 'They condemn things.' But it isn't a Christian thing to do. Jesus doesn't set out to condemn us, his purpose is to save us.
If we are condemned, it is not because Jesus – or anyone else – points the finger of accusation at us. We can only condemn ourselves, by discovering that we don't – after all – want our real motives, our real self, to come to light.
John 3.16-21

1 comment:

John said...

Very well expressed, Neil. We should be living like our objects are only tools for ministry, not idols for worship.