The Great Debate

Pamela Lewis

A Reading from the Gospel of John 8:12-19

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 13Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” 14Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16Yet even if I do judge, my judgement is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” 19Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”


These passages follow immediately after those concerning the woman taken in adultery. Although the scribes and Pharisees had challenged Jesus directly, Jesus never responded to them. Instead, he spoke only to the crowd preparing to stone the woman, and to the woman herself. Now Jesus engages in a tense debate with the scribes and Pharisees, who are still present after everyone else has left.

Jesus’ opening salvo, “I am the light of the world,” sets the confrontation in motion. He knows who he is, where he comes from, and where he is going. He asserts that knowledge fearlessly, while also implicitly accusing his challengers that they don’t know this because they walk in darkness.

Like the countless “blind” who through the ages have felt threatened by those who walk in the light and speak the truth, the scribes and Pharisees try their best to insult and devalue Jesus, from accusing him of lying about himself, to calling into question his legitimacy (“Where is thy Father?”). But they have clearly forgotten that they are debating with God’s Son, who as a young boy had argued in the temple with the doctors. They have not grasped that Jesus and his Father are one, and that, in accordance with the same law they claim to observe and uphold, the testimony of two men is true: Jesus bears witness of himself, and the Father bears witness of his Son.

This is no mere tit-for-tat argument, but a revelation of light versus dark, and of the flesh versus the Spirit. Although the scribes and Pharisees encounter the living God in Jesus, they are incapable of seeing beyond the surface to discern God’s Holy Spirit within.

What about us? Will we choose to walk in darkness or in light?

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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