The contrasts between darkness and light, and blindness and light, dominate the Scriptures this week. Consider the first reading. The young apprentice Samuel is awakened three times in the night, while sleeping in the temple. He thinks he is being summoned by the high priest Eli, but it is the Lord. Finally, instead of going to Eli, he listens to what God promises, which “will cause the ears of everyone who hears it to ring.” God plans to strip the priesthood from Eli’s family. There is good reason for this. Eli’s priest-sons were so corrupt that they stole parts of sacrifices in front of the pilgrims themselves and slept with women at the very door of the temple. Eli knew it and did little.
There are two interesting lines just before this reading. We read that at the time “a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent” (1 Sm 3:1) and that “the lamp of God was not yet extinguished” (3:3a). Why these details, as they seem to have no relation to the story? Oh, but they do. Eli was old and blind, and his blindness reflects the darkness that Israel was under. Without holiness in the priesthood, there would be no revelations or visions. God would seem distant because the people were distant from God. The light of the Lord was growing dim but not yet extinguished. Our reading ends with Samuel getting up in the early morning and opening the temple door. The sun’s light now shines into the dark temple. We subsequently find no shortage of divine communications to Samuel.
The language and insight align well with the Gospel. We are still in the first chapter of John, where in the prologue we see that the Word that became flesh was “the light of the human race,” while those who did not accept him remained in darkness. In today’s Gospel John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Andrew and another disciple approach Jesus and ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “Come, and you will see.” The statement seems to possess a double meaning: a straightforward “come and see” and “if you come to where I abide, you will end up seeing.” This is the great invitation. Still, seeing ends up being quite a challenge.
In the New Testament, darkness and blindness are often metaphors for sin. Actually, the Greek word skotia means both darkness and sin. Following this, the desert fathers and mothers used to call cultivated spiritual blindness scotosis. When we do not want to address something, we humans have a great gift for remaining blind and in the dark. The scotosis of the scribes and Pharisees was particularly alarming to Jesus. They were supposed to see the best and represent the light, but they were the blindest, intent on darkness.
Humans must be the only species with the capacity to lie to themselves and end up actually believing the lie. How odd. We have all the information: we know the liar, the one being lied to and the lie itself. (Think about your golf score claims, if you don’t know what I mean.) There is a Buddhist axiom: Awareness is no good news. It can be hard to live in the light.
But the opportunity to rid ourselves of the shackles of darkness offers such possibilities. St. Paul, challenging us in the second reading to live holy lives, offers us a self-image as a temple of the Lord. We can be like Samuel, opening the doors of our hearts and lives to the morning sun. In contrast to a life of infrequent revelations and visions, we can learn to see with new eyes traces of grace. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., reminds us.
Perhaps the most moving account of such enlightenment is that written by Thomas Merton in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: “At the corner of Fourth and Walnut…I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs…. Now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”