Sometimes Jesus says things that I have a hard time believing.
In today’s gospel lesson (John 8:12-20), Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but with have the light of life.” Never walk in darkness? Never? I’ve been alive for 32 years, and, for all of that time that I can remember, I’ve been trying to follow Jesus. And, even though I haven’t been alive long enough to experience the full depth of darkness that life can bring, I’ve found myself in some pretty dark places. And most of those dark times have not resulted because I’ve forgotten to follow him. In fact, sometimes following him leads specifically to those places of struggle.
And that’s where the trap is. It’s the same trap the Pharisees, whom Jesus addressed in this reading, fell into. Jesus said, “You don’t know where I’ve come from nor where I’m going.” I forget that following Jesus isn’t a journey down a path of feeling good. Being a disciple doesn’t mean everything is “coming up roses.” In fact, following Jesus rarely looks like a birthday party. It usually looks more like a journey through wilderness.
If I’m following Jesus, where should I expect him to lead? His path leads to the cross. His path leads to death. His path leads to shame and struggle and torture and abandonment and agony. Yet, of course, that path is not the end of the journey. Life is not about pain. The “light of life” that Jesus offers is an answer to that pain and struggle—not a denial of it.
Jesus is the light of the world, the light of life. That is the light that shines on the path ahead. And what does that mean? It means that our suffering is not empty. It means that we do not carry the burden of this life alone. To walk in the light of Christ does not mean sparklers and streamers and fireworks. It means knowing that even the path of suffering is a path that God has set before us. We are not alone in this life. There is no place of darkness where the light of God’s love cannot reach.
I’m following Jesus. That means I need to put down my own map and let him lead. He may not go where I want him to go, but I won’t be by myself on the journey.