I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. THE ONE WHO FOLLOWS ME WILL NOT WALK IN DARKNESS BUT WILL HAVE THE LIGHT OF LIFE. If there were no other proofs of the divinity of Christ in the New Testament, this claim would surely suffice to prove that Jesus himself was convinced he had transcendent significance for all persons. When we consider these words in the context of the rest of the Gospel there is no reasonable doubt that the evangelist here intends to present Jesus as having divine importance.
Moreover, a number of other truths are implied by this statement of our Lord which call for our attention. While our Lord addressed himself here to a particular audience, yet the very point he stresses is that his influence extends to a much broader public; indeed, it reaches to all persons. And not only to those living within the compass of his immediate activity as an itinerant preacher, but includes persons of all times and places.
In other words, the claims Jesus makes here derives from his being the Word of God who "enlightens every man who comes into the world", as St. John states the matter in his Prologue. We are not surprised then that this discourse of Jesus culminates in an utterance that embodies the highest claim he made, in fact, the most exalted assertion any one could possibly make: "Before Abraham existed I am" (John 8: 58). That the Jewish leaders understood this as a claim to equality with God is evidenced by the fact that their response to these words was to pick up stones with the intent to kill him for blasphemy. Implied, then, in our Lord's proclamation that he is the light of the world is his assertion that he is equal to God and so is himself God.
Another inference of our Lord's words in this Gospel is that he remains for us today the light that gives life to those who accept him. In making his claim to be the light our Lord does not modify the illuminating effect of this light by limiting it in time, space or to certain persons; on the contrary, he affirms that he is the light of the world as a whole. The only qualification he ascribes to his light is that it gives life. This in turn implies that the darkness he illuminates is not only that of ignorance and error but also the darkness of death itself. Just as his light dispels ignorance of God so also it bestows true life upon those who walk in it. Thus, here as in the opening verses of the Gospel, Jesus is shown to be the one sent by the Father into the world to radiate the truth that reflects the glory of God offered to men in the form of life-giving grace.
When we translate these images of light and darkness into the human experience they refer to and attempt to portray vividly, we enter into the inner places of the human heart where forces of good and evil are in conflict. Examined from the vantage point afforded by faith in the risen Christ, the course we follow here on earth appears to us as a winding path, illumined by the teaching and presence of the risen Lord Jesus, beset on all sides by dark forces that threaten progress. To wander off this path of light is to fall into confusion of mind and heaviness of spirit; it is equivalent to wandering about in the darkness with no goal to guide us, so that our efforts are without meaning.
Let us thank God from the heart as we offer this Eucharist today that He has revealed his Son to us precisely as the life-giving light of the world. May we ever show Him our gratitude for the gift of communion of loving faith in Jesus as our Savior by faithfully persevering in the way he reveals to us, guided by his light that leads to life eternal.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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