A few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the philosopher Plato told a story about a cave. Inside the cave were a group of individuals who were only allowed to look at one wall in the cave. They were not allowed to see or know what was going on behind them. On this one wall were shadows of different shapes and sizes. The people named the shadows. The shadows were their reality. This is all they had ever known.
One day one of the individuals was set free. He was able to turn around and see what was behind them. He saw a fire and some images on sticks. When he first looked at the fire it hurt his eyes. He was tempted to return to the wall with the shadows. It was what he was familiar with. To him the shadows were real. He was uncertain about the fire and objects he was now seeing.
He decided to press on. Eventually he found the cave entrance and went outside. He saw the sunlight. He saw the beautiful blue sky. He saw the sea. His reality had completely shifted because he had the courage to continue seeking. At points in his journey he was not quite sure about what was real and what was not. He had doubts, but he never turned back. Once his eyes adjusted and he was able to take everything in his life changed forever.
Plato’s story is important. It is helpful in understanding the teachings of Jesus. When people encounter Jesus he often turns their world upside down. His teachings are hard because they challenge our understanding of the world. He charges his followers to embrace an instrument of death. He informs us that godly leadership is not about power, but about serving others. He says loving our friends and family is not unusual, but that we are to love our enemies. Jesus turns everything on its head and there are many who would simply like to return to the safety of the shadows on the wall.
People respond to Jesus’ teachings in different ways. Jesus understood this. This is why he asked, “Do you have ears to hear and eyes to see?” How we respond to that question is of upmost importance. How we respond will determine if we are the type of person that will return to the shadows or venture into the unknown.
The shadows on the wall are tempting. They are familiar. They make us feel safe and comfortable. They are what we understand. The shadows are how we make sense of the world. To have that foundation challenged is a frightening thing. This is why many will never make it to the outside of the cave.
Jesus is not interested in our comfort. He is not concerned about affirming what we think is true. He is the truth. He brings new life. He calls us to die to ourselves, so that we can be raised again. He didn’t come to talk about shadows on a wall. He came to reveal the Light of the world.
We all grow up with shadows. They can be any number of things. There are even shadows in religion. Some people feel comfortable in legalism, while others feel comfortable in liberalism. Why? Because this is how they understand the world. This is the world they grew up in and they are afraid to leave the shadows behind.
Shadows make us feel good, but they hold us back. Jesus wants to turn our world upside down. He wants to give us a different understanding of the world. When we encounter the teachings of Jesus with ears to hear and eyes to see we will be challenged. We will be called out of legalism. We will be called out of liberalism. We will be called out of whatever shadows we are clinging to and called to follow Jesus.
The question is not whether we are being faithful to conservative ways of thinking or liberal ways of thinking. The question is whether or not we are being faithful to Jesus. Have we left the shadows behind and exited the cave, or are we still holding to what is familiar and comfortable? Does our study of God’s word affirm our own beliefs, or does it cause us to rethink and examine our ways of thinking. In other words, “Do we have ears to hear and eyes to see?”
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