In the Gospel reading for today at Mass, we hear much about the metaphor of light:
“And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn. 3:19-21)
The Gospel according to John compares Jesus to light and evil to darkness. This metaphor began in the very opening of John’s gospel when he named Jesus as the Word of God that creates (as when God creates the cosmos through speech in Genesis). God’s first creation is to create light, and then to separate light from darkness (Genesis 1:3-5). Here, the gospel extends this metaphor further to show us that creation is not yet finished.
God’s creation is still ongoing in Christ. God’s creative and re-creative work is not yet done. As we see in Acts, Jesus’s followers are still being persecuted after the Resurrection, and evil has not been completely wiped away. In our world, too, we witness material greed of some and consequent poverty for others, war, racism, oppression, ecological disasters, religious persecution, and many other evils. Most commentators think that the Gospel according to John was written to an audience of persecuted Christians, who also suffered.
The passage suggests that Light is creative in at least three ways.
First, Light exposes. When we come closer to Christ, we are exposed and vulnerable. The author says this is why people tend to avoid the light: we can be defensive and would prefer that others see us only in the best light. But when we are willing to feel more exposed and fully seen by the Lord, growth is possible. For example, when we go to the sacrament of reconciliation and confess our shortcomings, aloud and to another person, we are a more honest people. Being self-aware is humbling, and humble people are capable of being re-created into something new.
Second, Light is connected to truth. Light is illuminative and shows us new dimensions of what exists, remedying our tendency to see things in a partial or short-sighted way. Light helps us to see more. In the other, synoptic Gospels, we see Jesus heal blind men. Such healing is both a literal healing, and an image for healing as seeing.
Third, Light is attractive. John describes those who live in truth as coming to the light. Jesus is attractive and his goodness calls others to an authenticity of soul and action. Repeatedly, we see instances of people who leave behind their more superficial concerns to follow Jesus: Peter and James put down their nets; Zacchaeus promises to return money to the people; Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’s feet.
God creates not through force, but through attraction, illumination, and the exposing power of light. When we go toward the Light and surrender our sometimes vulnerable selves to God, that we will be humbled, healed, and strengthened to seek the good.