Light-walking in the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is amazing. Not only for its revelation of the person of Jesus Christ, but also for its masterful literary composition. John plays with themes of light and darkness through the first half of the work, implicitly (and sometimes boldly) challenging the reader to make a choice: walk in the light or remain in darkness.

‘Walking in the light’ has become a stock phrase for Christians that means the correct understanding of God and proper application of His principles to daily life. John introduces this theme in chapter one, but then plays with it in chapters three and four. In chapter three, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and quite clearly doesn’t get it. He remains in darkness and ignorance. In chapter four, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman coming to the well to get water at high noon. Her responses indicate her growing understanding and as the conversation develops, she leaves her water bucket at the well and goes to tell her friends about Jesus! Her response indicates that she’s ‘walking in the light.’

Perhaps the most explicit contest comes when Jesus heals a blind man in John 9. The man was born blind and thus considered by many to be born in sin. His ‘inner light’ was quenched and he could not see. Jesus corrects this misunderstanding and sends the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. He returns able to see! The Pharisees (sort of like religious Grinches) are displeased and seek to explain away the miracle and discredit Jesus. The formerly blind man who is now ‘walking in the light,’ faces down the sighted Pharisees who choose to ‘walk in darkness’ and ignorance. As the chapter closes, the man worships Jesus.

John also uses the feasts and festivals to play with the theme of light and darkness. There are three named feasts in the book of John: Passover, Tabernacles and Dedication. Passover climaxes in the death of Christ, but the other two feasts prominently feature… light. In the feast of Tabernacles the Court of the Women in the Temple was illuminated by a giant oil lamp and featured a water pouring ceremony which involved … the pool of Siloam. The feast of Dedication memorialized the cleansing of the Temple. Not only was the Temple illuminated, but light featured prominently in everyone’s homes. In a literal sense, people were ‘walking in the light,’ but the metaphorical sense depends upon an individual decision. John asks, ‘what about you?’ Are you, ‘walking in the light’ or stuck in darkness? It’s a fair question and the Gospel of John deserves a close reading!

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