There is a story from the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato called the Allegory of the Cave. Plato wrote the story about 400 BC. In the story, Plato asked his readers’ to contemplate their understanding of reality. He asked his readers to consider a cave that held several prisoners. The prisoners had never been outside the cave and, in fact, had been chained such that they could only look straight ahead at a blank wall of the cave. Behind the prisoners was a walkway for other people and animals to pass. Behind the walkway was a fire. The fire, of course, shed light on the people and animals on the walkway which cast shadows of this activity upon the wall that the prisoners could see. The prisoners could only see the shadows moving across the wall of the cave. As those shadows passed, the prisoners would try to guess what the shadow represented and what shadow was going to next pass in front of them. The shadows became the prisoners’ reality. Then one day, a prisoner broke free of his chains and left the darkness of the cave and into the light. He saw great and wonderful things in the brilliance of the light. He quickly came to learn how distorted his view, his reality in the cave, had been of the world only seeing it through the reflection of shadows. This freed prison returned to his friends in the cave to share the joy of his discoveries. The freed prisoner wanted to help his friends move from the darkness into the light and share in his joy. The prisoners chained in the cave did not believe what their friend had to say. Instead, they mocked him and desired to kill him.
Plato’s story reveals the truth of human nature. Humans are very capable of creating their own sense of reality and are even comfortable in a reality shaped by shadows and darkness. We have a sense of security living in the “reality” we created for ourselves. Although Plato wrote his story nearly 400 years before the birth of Christ, the parallels between Plato’s story and Jesus’ public ministry are unmistakable.
Listen to the story of Jesus first revealing who he was to others. “16 He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He [Jesus] stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 20 Then he [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He [Jesus] began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:16-22). Jesus came with good news, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to give sight, and set the oppressed free. Jesus came with a new message of hope. At first people were attentive but then Jesus challenged the people’s reality and the comfort of the people. What was the result? Luke wrote, “28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him [Jesus] out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:28-30). The people of Jesus own hometown rejected the message of Jesus that challenged the reality of God they had created for themselves.
Later, while in Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, Jesus “spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ 13 The Pharisees challenged him, ‘Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid’” (John 8:12-13). Jesus was bringing a message of light into the darkness. In the light, in him, others could see God clearly. But the Pharisees, said Jesus testimony was not valid, it could not be believed.
Jesus persisted to help those in the dark to know the joy of the light found with God. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ 33 They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ 34 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word’” (John 8:31-37). Jesus could see that his message was hard for people to accept. People were invested in their own sense of reality of the God they created for themselves. They had seen God do great things and listened to God’s word but only as a prisoner looking upon the shadows on the wall of a cave. The truth about God was distorted. When Jesus came with the truth, they could not accept his word, and desired to kill him.
The Apostle John put it this way, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21). Jesus came into the world as the light to dispel the darkness and removed the shadows but people preferred the darkness. What was the result? The people killed Jesus rather than step into the light. Plato’s fantasy story of the Allegory of the Cave had come into reality.
The task Jesus left for those who did come to believe in him as the light of the world was to walk in continuous fellowship with him. The Apostle John speaking to the church expressed the individual response to Jesus this way, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). Our individual mission and purpose then is to walk with Jesus in the light of his word. This means we must move from the shadows. We must move from the shadows of our former lives. We must move from the shadow of other religious and secular beliefs in which we want to take comfort. We must be willing to accept that our lives in following Jesus, in moving into the light, will be changed. Sadly, many people do not want to change and desire to see God as just a better version of who they believe they are.
The Apostle Paul was one person who changed, not easily, but he changed. After he changed and allowed Jesus who free him from his traditions and his former life, Paul wrote, “15 The Son [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Paul no longer looked at the shadows to imagine what God might be like. Instead, Paul looked upon Jesus, his life, his ministry, his word, his death, and his resurrection and saw God, clearly. Paul’s words reveal a reality. To come to know God and do God’s will requires that we come to a crisis of belief. When we reach a medical crisis or health crisis, it is that moment when the illness or insult to our body has reached such a point that we will either move toward certain death or toward restored life. The same is true of a crisis of belief. It is that moment when our spiritual life, beset by the illness and insult of sin and the trials of life reaches such a point that we either move toward Jesus or away from Jesus. We either move toward the certainty of life or the certainty of death. Paul reached that crisis of belief and concluded, “15 The Son [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:15-18). Paul in accepting Jesus as the light of the world and the visible image of the invisible God entered reality.
Paul knew his life in reality must change, not a little tweak here or there, but it must change in substantial and enduring ways. Paul knew he would now see things in the light that he could not see in the darkness and the shadows. In seeing in the light, Paul knew he must imitate Jesus who, as Paul said, had supremacy over all things. The supremacy of Jesus must be lived out each day and the way we show the supremacy of Jesus is by imitating Jesus with compassion toward others, with gentleness, with kindness, and with love. We demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus within us when we offer joy and peace that lives within us in abundance with others. The reality is to accept Jesus as the light of the world, as the visible image of the invisible God, we too must accept the reality that our lives must be radical different from our past.
Paul also knew that to pass through the crisis of faith and choose to walk in the light with Jesus meant accepting the reality that God had been, is, and always will be at work around us. Paul may have sensed God at work when Paul lived in the shadows but now that Paul lived in the light of Jesus, Paul could see God at work. The reality is God invited Paul to join him in his work and to know God better, more deeply, and more personally. Paul discovered the more he engaged in God’s work, the more he experienced God. This is our reality as well. In coming through a crisis of belief and accepting Jesus we want to imitate Jesus. In imitating Jesus, we see the work God is doing and we join him in doing it. As we do so, we know God better, more personally, and then we understand just how much God loves us.
It is in the reality of God’s love that we experience Jesus anew. Paul wrote, “19 For God was pleased to have all his [God’s] fullness dwell in him [Jesus], 20 and through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his [Jesus’] blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). In Jesus, we are reconciled to God and to each other. That is true of all things on earth and in heaven. That is what Jesus did when he entered the cave of darkness and shadows and invited us to walk with him in the light. The reality is we have been reconciled at have peace. The reality is wherever chaos, strife, rioting, division, arguments, and harshness exist, it exists because we chose to climb back into the cave and the shadows. The reality is anger is a choice we make to break the peace brought by Jesus. The reality is anger reflects that Jesus we have rejected the supremacy of Jesus. The reality is that anger reflects we have passed through the crisis of belief and chose death over life.
What are we then to do? We have been offered freedom from the bounds of our past and we have been offered the hope of the future. We must accept Jesus and reject the idea of keeping ourselves chained in the cave. We need to walk out into the light with Jesus and in listen to his teachings and do the things that he is doing. We must have love for one another and help others share in the joy of being free and reconciled to God. This is the reality of life. It is not easy because it requires that we be willing to examine our life and beliefs to see if we are walking with God in the light or at the world of make believe in shadows and darkness. Paul said, ”16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. [Do not feel judged that you walked away from your past traditions, practices, and beliefs.] 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16, 17). Christ is the reality. Let’s join him there. Amen and Amen.