Reading: John 18
During the last couple of weeks the weather has been one of the most talked about topics on our news programmes. This cold weather front seems to be lasting too long. It seems that spring, although already here according to our calendars, has still a very long way to go before showing itself fully and defrosting our frozen extremities. Riding of this wave of climate despondency we have had to endure some unhelpful “scare-mongery” from our media about gas reserves running low and about dwindling supplies of home fuels. How will we keep on warming ourselves if the cold weather endures?
Now, to put things in perspective, according to St John’s gospel it seems that even the days surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection were plagued by cold weather. In fact St John’s is not shy about this, but he clearly writes that the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself (18:18). Later on, as St Peter is questioned about his relation with Jesus again he is said to be standing near the fire and warming himself (18:25).
This is Palestine. It is common for temperatures to drop greatly at night in locations near deserts, but why does John feel the need of pointing out – more than once – that a fire had been lit? Why is John highlighting weather conditions in his Passion narrative?
The reason here is found in the spiritual meaning of light, warmth and companionship. Repeatedly, during the reading of the events of the Last Supper and of the Passion, John makes references to light, to darkness, and to being outside where it is often cold, lonely, and dark.
Earlier in the text, when Judas leaves the place of the Last Supper to betray Jesus, John tells us that he leaves the room alone to go out in the outside darkness were night had fallen (13:30). Similarly, in today’s reading we see that Peter’s denial of Jesus takes places in darkness, in the night hours before the cock crows, and at a time when Peter is very lonely though surrounded by people. Later on in our reading we see that those who wanted to kill Jesus take him to Pilate to his headquarters, but they themselves did not enter the prætorium (18:28) for fear of being contaminated, of being soiled by the presence of unbelieving pagans. So they stay outside the headquarters in their own clicky group.
Do you remember these words?
…in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:4-5)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (8:12)
For St John true light is present only where Jesus is.
For John light, warmth, and companionship are all related somehow, and they can only truly exist in conjunction with Christ.
When individuals decide to follow their own devices and they turn their back on Jesus, they cut themselves off from true companionship – even with one another – and they are left alone to look for light and warmth in their lives form other sources.
Unfortunately, as John points out and the experience of the Church tells us, these other sources cannot provide the same true light that Jesus provides; they cannot warm our souls; and they cannot truly link us to one another in love.
Let’s think of Judas, when he turns away from Jesus he goes out into the night beginning a path that will lead him very soon to self-destruction.
Let’s think of Peter, as he stays away and denies Jesus, he is left with loneliness, with darkness, with fear, and with just a little coal fire to reassure and comfort him.
Let’s think of the Jewish leaders who refuse to enter the place of Jesus’ trial because they want to be able to eat the Passover meal, even though the true Passover Lamb is inside the headquarters.
Let’s think of our society as it ever looks for new things and new addictions to numb the loneliness and light up the darkness that surround it because it doesn’t know Christ.
Finally, let’s think of ourselves when we turn our backs to Jesus because the road on which he asks us to follow does not match with our expectations; when we turn away from Jesus because we do not want to climb up our own personal calvaries to find Him there.
Sometimes on Good Fridays we’d like to picture ourselves as St John or Our mother Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross until the bitter end. But if we are honest and if we look closely, we may find that we are more like Peter, or the Jewish leaders. The Cross and what Jesus does from Golgotha may not fit in our plans, but if we don’t follow Christ to Calvary, we won’t have anything worthwhile in our lives.