The Light that Shines in the Darkness: Holy Wednesday

The Gospel reading for Holy Wednesday is John 13:21-32.

Every year we have to deal with this again.  We have to ask these questions again. Why? Why did the disciples not understand what was going on?  Why did the people not know who Jesus was and accept him? Why did Judas betray Jesus?  Why did Jesus have to die?  Is this really what God wanted?

Despite the order of our readings during Holy Week (in which we hear this part of the story today and then back up to read the previous scene, the one with the supper and the footwashing, tomorrow) it’s worth remembering that Judas was present for the supper and the footwashing.  It was in the context of this intense intimacy with Jesus and those few who were still with him, who had not fallen away already by this time in Jesus’ life, that Judas goes out into the night for reasons not entirely or satisfactorily spelled out in the Gospel. 

Theories of what was going on with Judas range from greed to frustration about Jesus not starting the revolution to an assertion that the devil made him do it.  John the Evangelist himself says that Satan entered into Judas - that something evil was already afoot in this gathering of intimates and that perhaps it is here in this scene that a pre-ordained cosmic battle begins, a battle in which the forces of evil, the dark, will try to overcome the forces of good, the light. 

As Judas goes out into the night, the dark, we might remember what Jesus said before, to Nicodemus, that “the judgment of the world is this: that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their actions were done in God.” 

And then we would do even better to remember what is written at the very beginning of this Gospel.  That in the beginning, the Word Made Flesh was the true light that came into the world, and that light gives light to everyone.  And that the true light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There is evil in the world. As we see in the story of Judas, who Jesus fed and whose feet Jesus bathed, evil is there intertwined with the good, part of a larger scene of sacred hospitality and intimate friendship.  Some people will choose the dark.  And so Judas has chosen today.  We like to think that we would not so choose, ourselves.

But whatever was going on here, whether or not Judas was a helpless pawn in the cosmic battle of good and evil, whatever his motives may or may not have been, and however we feel about the complicated and bewildering subject of evil, and whatever our own hopes are for how we ourselves might have acted in this situation, our focus must not be distracted away from the light itself. 

Because the message from the very beginning, from “in the beginning,” is that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not - and cannot - overcome it.  The light will shine on, it will still be there, even when it appears to have sputtered and gone out. 
As fascinating and mesmerizing and tantalizing and tempting as darkness and evil can be, it is the light, and not the dark, that must be our focus here.  It is Jesus who is the light of the world and no amount of evil, of horror and pain and suffering, of violence and betrayal - even our own betrayal - will ever, ever put that light out.  That is the promise and the glory of God (that is the glorification!) that we see in Jesus, who came to show us God.

As we move into the deepest dark of Holy Week, as we get swept again into this brutal story of betrayal and violence and suffering and death, as we doubt and waver in our feeble humanity, this truth is what we must hold on to, this truth is what we believe, and this truth is the promise:  That no matter what, the light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot ever overcome it.