“You are the Light of the world.” The ‘you’ here, as it is in ‘You are the Salt of the earth,’ is very particular: Jesus is speaking to his hearers, to you and me and all his disciples, calling us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13, 14) Jesus says to us, “Who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead, it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light. So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16) As the Message Bible has it: “You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.” Today’s Gospel emphasises the job we have to do as Christ’s disciples, a job which is highly visible; there’s no such thing as a private Christian.
Earlier in his Gospel, St Matthew wrote, quoting the prophet Isaiah: ‘You who spent your days shrouded in darkness can now say, “We have seen a brilliant Light.” And those who lived in the dark shadow land of death can now say, “The Dawning Light arises on us.” (Matthew 4:16) This is us! After The Fall we were, so to speak, kicked out of the Garden of Eden, out of Paradise, with the sentence: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) We all live in this ‘dark shadow land of death;’ this is ‘the world’ in which we find ourselves. St Paul, being a good Jew, took seriously the promise of God’s Law: If you keep it you will live — but he discovered that it did come with a very big ‘But’: “You are obliged to keep the whole of the Law.” (Galatians 5:3) So that you either keep it all, or you don’t; and if you fail, you will be condemned. (Romans 4:15; 6:23)
St Paul tried very hard to keep the Law, and there was none who tried harder. (Acts 26:5; Philippians 3:5-6) But his efforts were in vain: “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me,” he bemoaned. (Romans 7:10) For, as he explained, “I do not understand my actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:15, 19) He came to realise that no matter how hard he tried, he could not keep the Law, and that despite his best efforts, he was no better than anyone else: ‘We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.’ (Romans 3:23) In his despair he cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) Paul realised that he/we cannot keep the Law, and so we are all condemned to die. This is the darkness of today’s Gospel in which we all live, for we can find no way out of it; in this darkness we are all blind. (Romans 2:19; John 12:35)
Paul, however, did see a light in the darkness. (Acts 9:5) It came as a revelation, that Jesus who was crucified is alive, that somehow he had managed to escape death. He came to see that it really was possible for a human to come to life in its fullness (C.f.: Mark 10:17ff), and he understood that such was only possible through God’s mercy, for we have nothing we can ‘boast about before God’ that merits such a just reward. (Romans 4:2. C.f.: Matthew 18:23ff) He came to see that the only way out of the darkness of this world was by following the light that is Christ risen, that it is only through believing in Jesus that ‘we have access by faith to this mercy.’ (Romans 5:2) As he put it: “But thanks be to God thorough our Lord Jesus Christ. For there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 7:29-8:1) So, to find our way out of the shadow of death and come into this light, we have to believe in Christ raised from the dead. (Romans 4:20) And having seen this light for himself (Galatians 1:12), he saw it as his task to get others to believe in Christ risen, that they, too, might see the light and see in this light how to live and come to life. In doing this he became himself a light for those who sit in darkness. (C.f.: John 1:6-8; 5:35) Those others who came to believe through him in Christ risen from the dead, in their turn would go onto become lights shining in the dark … and so on, down to this present day. A sign we have for this is the lighting of the Paschal Candle on Easter night. There in the darkness a great light is seen, and from which we light our own candle and then go on to light our neighbours’ candles, till all the darkness is dispelled. To do this is our task, too.
How are we to let our ‘light shine in the sight of all?’ (Matthew 5:16) Our first Reading from the Prophet Isaiah gives us the answer: “What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on … If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.” (Isaiah 58:7-10) For doing this God will bless us (c.f.: Matthew 5:3ff), and ‘seeing our good works’ others will praise God, for they know what it is that we can do left to ourselves. (Romans 7:21-23) And they, too, will come to see that it is possible for a human to truly live, and that to do so is only possible by following the Christ who is our Light as we ourselves do. (Matthew 19:16ff)
Today’s Gospel calls us to be ‘the Light of the World.’ (Matthew 5:14) What we are called to do cannot be hidden. (C.f.: Mark 7:24) As Jesus puts it: “If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, our generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16) We have a job to do: Go forth, and let your light shine.