When you shine a flashlight into a dark closet, spring cleaning in your mind, the light doesn’t create the dust, the moth holes, the lonesome mitten lying on the floor. The light simply reveals them as they are.
Jesus is the light of the world.
When the spring sun bathes the earth with light and warmth, its light pours down heavenly nourishment, while its warmth thaws the life stored in frozen soil and branch, and begins to draw that life towards itself.
Jesus is the sun of righteousness.
The buds that cover its branches in the spring have not earned the tree’s support: they grow out of it; they manifest the life and vitality and identity of the tree.
Jesus did not earn God’s love for us. He manifested it.
Persuasion and instruction depend on the parties involved sharing certain premisses, certain interests and values. Instructions on how to apply for a passport hold no interest for the complacent homebody. Someone arguing for a particular political system – democracy, for example – by showing how it advances the cause of personal freedom will have no persuasive influence on someone who places no value on personal freedom – a committed Marxist, for example.
The internet sometimes offers videos of people, deaf from birth or injury, receiving a new cochlear implant. What the videos show when the implant is activated is invariably heartwarming. The sounds of voices and music that once fell on deaf ears are suddenly sources of joy and wonder.
Being born from above is not a supernatural intervention, creating a new and innocent spirit. It’s a change of perspective that may or may not result from exposure to the Gospel truth, the truth of God’s unconditional love for all His children. It’s not a new creation ex nihilo; it’s a new receptivity to Christ’s instruction.
Life is knowledge of the Gospel truth. Death is ignorance of the Gospel truth. Light is the illumination stemming from the knowledge of the Gospel truth. Sin is knowing the Gospel truth, but not walking in its light.
Pretty straightforward, really.
Imagine a mother who was informed that her infant son, at the age of twelve, would be removed to a far country, one with different customs and a foreign language, there to spend the rest of his life. Wouldn’t the mother, in all love, do her best to familiarize her child with the ways and habits of that country’s culture, to provide him acquaintance with what to expect, with how to understand and respond to its motivations, how to appreciate their rationale and enjoy their rewards? Most of all, wouldn’t she teach him the language of that far country, so that he might communicate from the very beginning?
Think of Jesus as our loving mother.
Jesus can only do his work where he’s welcome. At the outset of the ministry, he reads from Isaiah, then closes the scroll and waits. And waits. His words are unwelcome, and we never again hear of Nazareth in the Gospels.
On sending out his disciples, he instructs them to linger only where they find hospitality.
Simon the Pharisee offers Jesus condescension and disrespect, and in response, Jesus turns his attention to a serving woman.
We conclude our prayers by saying Amen, and we often think of that as expressing intellectual agreement. And it is that, of course; but much more, it’s a way of saying Thank you, of saying Come in, sit down, of saying Let me give you something to eat.
Our spiritual devotions to God and our material devotions to the children of God are all ways of saying Amen. The Christian goal is a life that simply is: Amen.
Anything that is true and lovely is good. Anything that is lovely and good is true. Anything that is true and good is lovely.
A mother’s love surrounds her baby whether the baby is awake or asleep, whether it’s sick or well. Her love doesn’t fade or withdraw when the baby is being difficult or presenting challenges. It’s not stronger when she’s hugging the baby to her bosum than when she’s asleep and dreaming of her own childhood. A mother’s love doesn’t name an emotion or a mood of the mother; it names a spiritual orientation between a woman and her child that nothing in the material world can effect.
Some say that El Shaddai means God of two breasts.
In the summer, the fair-complexioned must be respectful of the power of our neighborhood star. A few minutes on the first outing, a few more on the second, and so on. Eventually, if all goes as planned, even the palest among us can spend the day delighting in the outdoors, under the unfiltered sun, without fear of the aftereffect.
The good news is that God loves us. But that doesn’t tell us much, because we have only a very opaque vision of God or of God’s love. What we have instead are a few words, vague and amorphous things, each residing in our individual vocabularies as products of our own identities, like autobiographies in our personal libraries. To say God loves me has a distinctive personality each time it’s uttered or thought, even by the same speaker.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even an unfiltered glimpse of God’s love in its reality – which is God, John tells us – would overwhelm us, scorch our spirits. We may even, if we like, think of our spiritual growth as becoming more and more able to experience and enjoy God’s love, without pain.
After he returned from the period of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus did something quite remarkable. He told someone about it. We don’t know who it was he told, of course, or whether there was more than one. But he told someone, or we ourselves would never have learned about the temptations.
And since he told somone, he must have wanted the nature of the temptations and his rationale for resisting them to be known as well. Why?
Surely not to communicate how he had overcome unique and uniquely powerful temptations, temptations available only to him: to change stones to bread by miracle, to exercise a privilege of protection as God’s Son, to rule the world. The only possible motive for his telling someone for that reason would be pride.
The answer must be that each represented a category of temptation to which we are all subject, and which we must be especially diligent to resist, for the reasons given in Christ’s several responses. Thus the one teaches us not to desire shortcuts in our journey towards God: to embrace the difficulties of the journey; to be wary of easy answers and gaudy promises; to live through faith rather than sight.
And another warns us against both spiritual complacency and spiritual arrogance, against neglect of prosaic duty and humble responsibility, against pride in its most subtle embodiments.
And the third?
The temptation for Jesus was not to rule the world: he created the world, for goodness sake. Nor was it to save the world; he’d already accomplished that in eternity.
So what was there between the world and Jesus that finds counterpart in each of us, and would explain why Jesus described this temptation to someone?
I think it must be the spiritual ignorance of the world, and the temptation to remove that ignorance by any means but the truth, the gospel truth.