Matthew 5:13-16, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
We can discern at least three points to this mandate of being light of the world. First, this very much sets us on the loose while in the world. Second, the light is about the goodness of what we do, what we are about. Third, we let all this show not for ourselves but for God.
The first point enables us to realize that faith is not an extra-terrestrial import or transplant. Faith is a seed that is planted in the messy and dark soil of our humanity. Put another way, the world of the spirit is not a self-contained bubble that floats apart from everything else. If it were so, then sacraments (which are made up of matter in the world) would have no meaning. Even a simple meal and the oblation that goes with it would lose spirit and meaning and true satisfaction; it would just be fuel for the biological side of you.
The life of faith would have been cleaner and safer if it were confined to the sanctuary. But to be told that we are light of the world suggests something more venturesome and hence dangerous. If our concerns as a people of faith, as people of God, cannot be confined to the chapel or the so-called private sphere, what are we to make of the kind of light that must shine on “all in the house”?
Our second point leads us to a germ of an answer: the kind of light that must shine is about the goodness of what we do, the goodness of what we are busy about. There are good deeds and there are good deeds. In Isaiah today, we get a sharper focus on the kind of goodness we are to shine forth in the world:
“Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…”
If we are confused and afraid, if we think ourselves lost in the darkness of mangled truths and eclipsed lives, the prophet speaks to us uncannily and explains the darkness away for us:
“If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
Conversely, if there is darkness, it is because there is oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; there is selfishness. If our God had nothing to say to the dark side that thrives within our souls and spills over to the public square, our faith would have been in vain.
Third point and last: we let the light that we are, the goodness of our deeds shine forth not for ourselves but for God. This is not easy: when people see our goodness, chances are they see mostly us. And we like that. We so like the “likedness” of it all we forget that we are not self-igniting. We are kindled from somewhere deep inside, outside, and from every bit of everywhere in the world. Geeks might call the source of light a disturbance in the force or in some quantum field. The Greeks would point to Prometheus who stole fire from the heavens to give to us. For God’s people, the simple truth is that light comes from Light, fire from Fire that burns in the heart of God.
And so we let our light shine in a way that turns the world lightward, in wonder and gratitude and humility. We let our light shine, we let it radiate in a way that makes God somehow luminous and translucent to the world.
Just as the stars at night are not overwhelmed by the darkness that seems more abiding than the light, so are we called to be light of the world, in the world, light from enduring Light, fire from the Fire of the love of God.
From the column “God’s Word Today” published by The Philippine Star