Summary: Do you want bread, or The Bread? Are you willing to live a life of abandon for Christ?
Plato’s Cave is an allegory told by the ancient Greek philosopher. In the allegory he tells of people who live in a cave who have been chained there since childhood. Their limbs have atrophied and their heads are fixed so that they can only look at one wall in the cave. Behind them is a fire. Their captors carry shapes of animals and plants and other things in front of the fire so that they cast a shadow on the wall. The prisoners play a game of naming the various shapes, and when one of the people carrying the shapes speaks, they believe that it is the shadow speaking. They live in a world of darkness and shadows. For them, the cave was not only the real world, it was the only one.
But what would happen, Plato asks, if one of the prisoners is dragged outside? When he is first brought out, he is blinded by the sun and cannot see anything, but soon his eyes adjust and he sees trees, mountains, sky and flowing rivers. He sees, not shadows, but the animals and plants for what they really are. He is enthralled by the variety of plant and animal life, the changing of night to day, the variation in temperature, the dazzling colors and smells of the earth. He returns to the cave and finds that now he can hardly see in the darkness. His desire is to free his fellow prisoners. He begins to tell the others of the wonder and beauty that awaits them outside the cave, but the others don’t want to hear it. They think he is insane and refuse to listen to his rants. In fact, they want to murder him.
Welcome to the life of Jesus. He came into our dark world and announced the good news of a kingdom of light, and that, in fact, he was the light of the world. He said he came to bring us peace, joy and life. He said he was the way to that life. He told about a kingdom that was so great in beauty and ecstatic experiences that the people living in darkness could not begin to imagine it. He said many things that were difficult for the people around him to understand. He said other things that they did not want to hear. They preferred shadows to reality and light. They rejected him and stopped following him. They were fine with the bread that he fed them, but they were not fine with him claiming to be the bread — the bread of heaven. He said to them, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:47-51).
It is possible to encounter Jesus, but miss who he really is, because of our preconceived notions of who he is, or who we think he should be and what he should be like. This is why I believe it is so important to study the Gospels, and to read them as if it was the first time you heard the story, attempting to put away all you have ever heard and believed, and let the story of Jesus inform and inspire you as if for the first time. I think it is possible to become so comfortable in our beliefs about Jesus and the Christian faith that we settle for the shadows of what other people have told us, rather than the reality of who he really is. It is possible to be so influenced by our culture, even the American Christian culture, that we miss the radical and exciting person waiting to be discovered in the New Testament. We, like the people in our scripture today, have so accommodated our faith to what we want it to be, an easy and comfortable believism, that we have been lulled to sleep and live in complacency.
We really think we understand it all, and that is precisely the problem. We are content with shadows and we are uncomfortable with light. Light means we will have to think new thoughts, and see things in new ways. We will have to stop wanting Jesus to just be a part of our comfortable lives, and begin to seek first his kingdom. We will have to give up our cozy Christianity that has been adapted to the ways of this world, and be true Christians after the calling and model of Jesus. Our Christian life has become a play thing, a good luck charm, rather than a radically new way of living. It means that we will have to stop preferring shadows to reality and see life through new eyes. But that may mean that we have to face the challenges that Jesus brings. It may mean changes in our priorities and values.