As the saying goes, “nothing good happens after midnight.” And that is true; so many criminal acts seem to take place under the cover of darkness.
In today’s first reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, that image of light and darkness are in play. In his counsel to the community of Thessalonica—one of the first communities Paul evangelized in Macedonia and probably the recipients of the first of the several pastoral letters he would write—the apostle reminds them that they are “children of the light and children of the day.” They are “not of the night or of darkness.”
The “light” that Paul speaks of in his letter is that inner illumination—that grace—that has been given to them through their faith in Jesus Christ, who out of love “died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.”
The metaphor of “light” and “darkness” is used elsewhere in the New Testament. In John’s Gospel, Jesus himself declares that he is the “light of the world.” (John 9:5) as he brings sight to the man born “blind.” In the story that follows, we observe that the “man born blind” begins to “see” deeply—not only regaining physical sight but beginning to grasp the beauty and power of Jesus himself. Meanwhile, the religious leaders grow in their resistance to Jesus and become more “blind.” This dramatic account ends with Jesus’ paradoxical saying: “I came into the world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind” (John 9:39).
Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ words refer to light and darkness in a manner similar to Paul. “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (John 3:20-21). Similarly in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has little patience for religious hypocrisy, when one “performs pious acts for people to see” but on the inside one harbors a very different spirit (see Matthew 6:1).
It is obvious that for Paul, as for John’s Gospel, “light” and “darkness” or “day” and “night” are metaphors referring not just to physical light and darkness but to a person’s transparency of spirit, a sense of integrity that does not fear scrutiny. Each of us, of course, have our own personal thoughts and feelings, some of them inarticulate and to be shared only with those we love and trust. Sometimes, we know, people share “too much information.” A well-known and very prolific Chicago author was described as “having no unpublished thoughts”!
But we are also sadly aware these days of how many sinful actions committed by civic and religious leaders take place under the cover of “darkness.” The reading today from Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians urges them to resist living under the cover of darkness. God’s grace and the example of Jesus enable us to live in the daylight, unafraid to be our true selves.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.