I once did a paper on the treatment of light in the bible. Phos as it is known in the Greek. But the word light has played a significant role in our existential thinking for times well before the generation of the bible, and is not limited to those who espouse a Christian doctrine.
I had to laugh this morning as Father remarked upon Plato and his statement that most of mankind conceives of reality about as clearly as our ancient forefathers watched shadows play against the wall of the cave.
Father said in all sincerity, “for a pagan, Plato had a real insight!” Indeed he did, and perhaps he wasn’t quite the pagan you think he was. God speaks to all peoples in all times in ways that are conjunction with their time and place in the world.
As we struggled to free ourselves the “dark ages” which were admittedly only dark for some, we came into the “Enlightenment” that time when we began to see that things that we thought were mysteries of God, were explainable through human reason and study.
In our first reading today, Isaiah speaks of the light that is coming to Israel, a light that will be recognized, a light to be followed, and in following, the world will become rich. Of course Isaiah 60: 1-6 is thought to predict the coming of the Magi, who located the Christ child in Bethlehem and recognized him as the light that would lead his people as King.
And indeed, we often refer to Christ as light. Reading the first chapter of the Gospel of John assures us that Jesus is the light that brings life, the light that dispels the darkness.
Light in the Gospel and certainly among the Gnostics was akin to knowledge. In his person, Jesus brings true faith, he proclaims the true and direct path to God. He brings us the knowledge of things heavenly, things that cannot be grasped by reason alone, but through faith.
That is the message for us today as we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. Jesus comes into the world, into our personal world and offers us the light of knowledge. If we abide in him and in his teachings we live in the light. That allows the Spirit within us to guide us along the path of truth–the sure path to God’s loving embrace.
Now of course, many claim to follow Jesus. And many claim that others who make such claims do not in fact. How can we know?
There is no easy answer to this question. To be sure that one is doing the will of God, following the dictates of the Christ, is to almost always to fall into error. Those who profess that they have the “true” knowledge almost assuredly do not, and perhaps that is the hallmark of a false prophet.
Humility is the first hallmark I believe of living in truth. One must be ever ready to conclude that one has been wrong. One must be ever ready to read further, more deeply, and to struggle in prayer for a clearer understanding. We must implore God at every juncture show us our errors and lead us back to the straight road. We are all to enthralled with crookedness and we must keep that before us.
In reading the various things that Jesus said, or more correctly what was reported he said, we must look to the overarching theme of his dialogues. And of course, I explain nothing new when I suggest that the overriding theme of Jesus as love. Love of God, love of neighbor. One can never isolate a sentence or word from scripture as proof of anything else. It must be placed in the context of all that he said, for in the end we must confess that those who set quill to parchment lo those millenia ago were human and in being human they brought their own reason and history to their understanding of what Jesus meant.
That may fly in the face of some who claim that the bible the result of God directing perfectly the hand of the writer. The evidence doesn’t suggest that that was so, nor does logic if you think about it. If God dictated it, then well, I confess, God is and was not much of a writer. And besides, being a literalist simply is an easy way out. As is the claim by some that God meant for the average person, with no special education, to understand everything in it with ease. This leads to private interpretation and quite obviously is why we have tens of thousands of so-called Christian sects this day.
No those who claim that the bible is easily interpretable by anyone are surely just making life easy on themselves. Tens of thousands have spent a lifetime studying sacred documents, and they certainly make no such claims. The bible is complicated, perhaps as complicated as any “book” can be. So we tread carefully.
But with care, and attention, as I said, it is possible to see the broad foundations of Jesus’ teachings. We know that love, companionship, compassion, respect for our differences, embracing the poor and disadvantaged, respect for those we disagree with, service to others–these are the attributes of those who follow the Lord. With humility, curiosity, wonderment, awe, and joyous happiness, we go forth seeking the road and seeking to stay upon it.
I do not claim we will never stray if we do these things, but I am confident that we will be called back to the path if we veer off. As long as we ask Christ each day, “Lord, teach me your ways!”
- Come to the Light: The Readings for Epiphany (thesacredpage.com)
- Sharing Our Stories On The Journey Of Faith – Day 36 – Epiphany (faithumchurch.wordpress.com)
- The Epiphany of the Lord (sacredheartcatholicchurchcrosbytexas.wordpress.com)
- Epiphany: Encounter with Jesus in faith and good works (junjunfaithbook.com)
- Isaiah’s Messianic Prophecy (scottsholar.com)