Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
(John 8:12 NRSV)
One of the periods of history which I find most fascinating is that few years spanning the second half of the eighteenth century. It was a period of exploration, intense scientific investigation and radical philosophical thinking.
Though not unique in history, the period of the late 18th century changed the way in which many people saw the world. It spawned many social movements, new discoveries, new ways of governing and even new nations. It was the age of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, Diderot’s Encyclopédie, Voltaire’s Candide, Captain Cook’s Voyages, of Paine’s Rights of Man, and so much more.
It was also a time when many sought to break away from what they saw as the shackles of religion and the overbearing authority of the Church.
Ironically, given that so many at the time sought to marginalise religion, Jesus had come to bring a new enlightenment all those centuries before.
In some ways, Jesus did re-assert traditional values, such as our duty to God and our neighbours; but in other ways he spoke out vehemently against those ways of thinking and being which enslaved minds, souls and bodies.
Jesus did not decry the faith of his time but his constant theme was that those who really knew God, who had a relationship with God, would see that religion was not a substitute for, or an escape from, the cold reality of their daily lives. Neither was it a means of social control.
He demonstrated that to love God was to seek to ensure that God’s love was enacted in every aspect of life; and not just personally, but in community, too. It was not a call to fundamentalism (at least, not as we understand the word), but to liberation and enlightenment. The way to bring in God’s Kingdom is to simply live it from day to day.
Encumbered by our Sunday School image of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” we often fail to see the radical and deeply subversive nature of his life and his teaching.
To discover something of the real Jesus can be quite illuminating.
open my eyes to see your truth;
free my soul from its preconceptions and prejudice;
enlighten my reason with your words of love.