Light and Dark

John 4:3-10, 39

Recently my wife and I traveled from Manila to Seattle. Though we were on the plane for many hours, thanks to the delightful International Date Line, we arrived before we left (departure from Manila: 12:20 pm on April 24; arrival in Seattle: 12:05 pm on April 24)! Needless to say, we dealt with a fair bit of jet lag as a result. Besides being tired from the loss of sleep, we also had to deal with the reversal of night and day—it’s night here when it’s day there and vice versa. All this jumbling takes its toll on mind and body!

Light and dark, day and night is also important in the Gospel of John. In John, light and day function as metaphors for spiritual awareness, while dark and night stand for spiritual blindness. We see this in John 3, where Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (v. 2). Many readers interpret this time designation to indicate Nicodemus’s fear of openly associating with Jesus—and that may be the case. But more important for the literary aims of the Evangelist is the symbolic function of the comment, for we soon learn that Nicodemus has a hard time understanding Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things?” (v. 10 NET).

In John 4, the situation is quite different, for verse 6 tells us, “It was about the sixth hour” (NASB). To understand the meaning of “the sixth hour,” it is necessary to recall that time was reckoned from the rising of the sun. Assuming that the sun rose at about 6 a.m. that day (by our way of reckoning), the sixth hour would be about 12:00 p.m. (6:00 + 6 hours = 12:00). That’s why some modern translations render this phrase as, “It was about noon” (NET, TNIV).

But all this calculation obscures the main point: it was the middle of the day. The sun was high and it was as light as it would get. So in John’s symbolic world the story that follows is about someone who quickly understands Jesus’ teaching. Many readers miss this point. Too often people assume that the woman at the well is a bad person because of her problem retaining a husband. I have even heard sermons about how she keeps trying to divert Jesus’ attention away from her own spiritual problems. But the Evangelist is painting a completely different picture! Here we have a woman who, though deemed unworthy by society, is more spiritually discerning than the teacher of Israel! The contrast is deliberate and sharp: the teacher of Israel who should “get it” is spiritually blind (chapter 3) while the social outcast who shouldn’t “get it” is spiritually perceptive (chapter 4). These, then, are stories of Jesus’ seeing beyond the externals that people look at and recognizing the inner spiritual condition of his conversation partners.

Perhaps we could call this a kind of spiritual jet lag. The person who appeared to be in the light was actually in the dark; the person whom everyone thought was lost in a spiritual midnight was actually alert in the full light of spiritual day. How about you? Are you experiencing spiritual jet lag these days? Perhaps your spiritual life looks good from the outside, but inside you are confused. You are going through the motions, but you feel like you are spiritually asleep.

There’s good news for the spiritually jet lagged! In John 19:39 the same Nicodemus who in John 3 came to Jesus in the middle of the night now comes to assist in the burial of Jesus. He is no longer spiritually blind. Instead he recognizes who Jesus really is and is committed to honor Him in His death. Although we are not told, it is reasonable to assume that Nicodemus was witness to His resurrection, as well. If Nicodemus could overcome his spiritual jet lag, each of us can do so, too. They say it takes one day per hour of time difference to overcome physical jet lag. But it only takes a moment’s prayer to the heavenly father to cure spiritual jet lag. Do not delay!

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