Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
By Joseph Chapman
Jesus tells the crowd in this passage, “The light is with you a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.” (John 20:35) I found myself immediately drawn to these words, partly because they seem like an oasis in the midst of desert.
What sort of desert(s) do we find in the passage? Much of the passage glorifies sacrificial death and martyrdom; those pieties may have worked for the early church but now border on sin for Christians who cannot escape cycles of shame and guilt. The passage also articulates a (very) high Christology that emphasizes the distance between an already omniscient Jesus and us. Finally, the passage likely proposes salvation for a select few instead of for all creation (some scholars consider all to be an error in v. 32—it should actually read only).
Verses 35-36 arrive like life. They arrive like a refreshing spring of water in the midst of a death-dealing wilderness. In fact, Jesus’s words here would not sound out of place in a contemporary self-help book. Get rid of those things or people in your life that don’t serve you. Walk while you have the light—walk in the light. Avoid darkness completely. Better yet, give those people and things who bring death and darkness to you their marching orders.
The thing is, the passage is a lot more complicated than a simplistic division of light and dark. We cannot forget that Jesus’ words to the crowd are spoken in the shadow of the cross. (You won’t find that shadow in a self-help book—it doesn’t sell well.) While Jesus’s pronouncement to the crowd is more complicated than cliché, it’s also more realistic. We cannot ignore reality. Oppression is inextricably woven into the fabric of our lives, in all times and places.
And yet, and yet… Walk while you have the light, Jesus tells us. Walk in the light, even though the shadow of the cross—imperial oppression, injustice, sickness and death—hangs over you.
We are called to walk in God’s light even in the midst of darkness.
Joseph Chapman is a master of divinity student at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.