The intersection of our liturgical calendar and the secular calendar has created a few noteworthy occasions this year. Ash Wednesday fell on St. Valentine Day. Easter will fall on April Fools’ Day. I could not help but notice that today, on the first day of Daylight Savings Time, we read a Gospel passage in which light and darkness are so prominently displayed. The question that the Scriptures seem to be placing before us today has to do with which we prefer – light or darkness. Before we hasten to answer that we prefer light, the Scriptures would challenge us to consider the question carefully.
When we first hear in today’s Gospel that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,” we all might breathe a sigh of relief. We are used to being judged by others. We are continually being put on the scales of someone else’s mind and found wanting. Our boss, our spouse, our family, our community, our constituents and our neighbors have mastered the look and the language of judgment. Remember the commercial that featured “Charlie, the Tuna.” No matter how he tried, he never made the grade. How many times in life have we been told: “Sorry, Charlie. . .”? We have gotten so used to negative appraisals that we sometimes project that mindset upon God. So it is good to hear today that God “so loved the world” that judgment has been abandoned in favor of salvation. We feel like we are off the hook.
Actually, we are really “on the hook” in a whole new way. While you may think that it is sheer stupidity to walk away from the free gift of God’s love, the problem is that we don’t live in a world that cherishes that kind of free gift. The fact of the matter is that many have chosen the darkness just as Nicodemus did in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is the light that illuminates our sinful world. When Jesus walks into our world, he lights up the sinful past and makes our racism, our sexism, our elitism, our greed, and our selfishness all too evident. While we like to point our fingers at others and their errors, allowing the light of Jesus to enter our own lives makes it all too painfully evident that there is still sin present within us. So before we answer that we prefer light to darkness, let us be sure just what might show up if we allow that light into our lives.
Jesus came into the world not to judge, but to save. Jesus is the personification of God’s mercy. However, before we embrace that mercy, let’s take a good hard look at what that meant in Jesus’ life. Expressing God’s mercy meant allowing himself to be crucified, to be lifted up in front of our eyes on a cross, the very sign by which we identify ourselves. As soon as we begin to pray, we sign ourselves with the cross. If you pray before you eat in a restaurant and begin with the sign of the cross, everyone in that restaurant will know what you are and who you are. The cross is the sign of God’s mercy, but it also is the sign of who we profess to be. So while Jesus did not come to judge us but to save us, we are judged nonetheless; we are judged by our actions in our homes and in our workplaces and in schools and on playgrounds and even in restaurants. So sadly, though we might say that we prefer light to darkness, sometimes the darkness offers us comfort and becomes a very safe place to be. Nicodemus approached Jesus in the middle of the night so that he would not be judged by his peers. He was safe in the dark just as we might find safety by avoiding the light that is Jesus and hiding in the darkness.
As we gather around the table of the Lord today, we do so aware of who and what we are. We are sinners in need of God’s mercy and love. To be worthy of that mercy and to accept that love, we must do more than eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus. We must be the Body and Blood of Jesus in the world which is, unfortunately, still enshrouded by the darkness. We must allow the light to shine in our lives and through our lives; we must do our part to conquer the darkness of sin which has a firm grip on our world.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator