This homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent is based on John 3:14-21.
As I was praying over today’s Gospel, one line leapt out of the page. It’s a line I’m familiar with, having come across it so many times before, but for some reason, as it often happens when we read our scripture, our context, the situation we find ourselves in, shapes what we understand and see in the texts we read.
The line is: “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.”
At first glance, this preference for the dark may surprise us. Why would anyone not choose light over the dark? But it’s an ancient insight into human nature. Plato, centuries before Christ, shared his insights about knowledge and education through his so-called allegory of the cave, where he compares ordinary people to prisoners shackled inside a cave and condemned to watch a shadow play, mistaking the shadows for the actual objects that cast them. He is pointing out that true knowledge lies not in appearances because these are but shadows of what is real.
But here’s where it gets interesting: In the allegory, one prisoner manages to escape and walk out of the cave, and for the first time, he sees actual objects, and his eyes are literally opened. He walks back into the cave to tell the prisoners about this real world beyond the shadows of the cave, but instead of welcoming the news, the prisoners reject it and even regard him with hostility.
Some like it dark. And one reason is we’ve simply grown accustomed to it. Another related reason is the discomfort that the change will cause. If we walk into the light, our eyes will hurt, as they did initially for our ex-prisoner in Plato’s story.
So when the Lord comes to our life offering us light, we may not all jump up and grab the opportunity to turn away from the darkness. The reason is that the choices we have to make between light and shadows, between good and evil, often entails a related choice between pleasure and pain. The fact is, doing good may be painful; this is what the Lord often refers to as the cross we need to bear if we wish to follow him. Likewise, avoiding evil cause some pain because some evil deeds do, in fact, bring us pleasure—and this is why temptations can be powerful and we occasionally find ourselves quite helpless to them.
In other words, we need to keep it real. Before we can be moral, we have to be ready to manage our instinctive—and thus default—reliance on the pleasure and pain principle.
Finally, choosing the light and deciding to step out of the shadows will often mean honestly and humbly coming to terms with our past mistakes and sins. That is by no means an easy thing. This is why the Lord says: “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.”
As we continue to enter into this holy season of Lent, let’s ask ourselves: Are you still dwelling in caves?
In which aspects of your life could you still be inhabiting caves, areas in your life where you still prefer to hide and huddle in the dark because it is easier, more familiar, less threatening, more pleasurable?
Is it time to walk out of caves?