Light of the World

Published on 06 Feb 2020

You are the light of the world [1]….your light must shine [2] for people to see.  

There can be some resistance in us to the Lord’s encouragement to us allow others to have a clear vision of our faith in him.  We know that Jesus expects us to share the good news of him by word and action but we are nervous of doing so.  Our heart should be steadfast, trusting in the Lord [3] but we are daunted by what might be required of us by this task.  Even Saint Paul sometimes embarked on enlightenment in fear and trembling [4].   The possible recipients may be hostile and derisive.  We may feel too vulnerable to the objection that we have not yet assimilated enough of the light ourselves to be appropriate mediators of it to others.  The light of Christ has certainly begun to illuminate our life but are we ready to be effective sharers?  Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you [5].  We have divine assurance us that we are the light of the world but we remain unconvinced.  Our faith shines too dimly, we fear, to reveal the truth to anyone else or to brighten any other life.

You are the light of the world, the Lord repeatedly tells us.  Humbly, we demur.   We want to efface ourselves and to be not too much in the public eye. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden [6].  Indeed, but important work goes on in the background.   The most visible hill-town is a hive of invisible activity.  Nevertheless, Jesus urges us to share his teaching openly.  The background labour, undoubtedly necessary, gives rise to public demonstration in word and deed, also indispensable.   The Lord knows there will be resistance to the light.  However his concern is mostly with the opposition of those to whom he sends us not with our  irksome coyness.  Happy are you, when people abuse you and you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account [7].  The light we are called to be is a kind of clarity not, it turns out,  a species of self-promotion.   The happiness, the beatitude, to which our saviour is initiating us will surprise people.  The light is knowledge of him, but him crucified [8]. He teaches us that if we walk in his way then some suffering will precede great joy.  Happy those who mourn, they shall be comforted [9].  After trouble comes beatitude.  Indeed, in the trouble is an anticipation of the bliss. Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right, theirs is the kingdom of heaven [10].  The martyrs are with God forever but even in their worst tortures they already witness to eternal life.  Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you, and for all your friends, that we merrily meet in heaven [11].   

No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub. They put it on the lampstand where it shines for everyone in the house [12].  The way of Christ is not invisible.  Without seeking publicity or glory, the life and teaching of Jesus make themselves known.  The light is in deeds at least as much as words.  The Holy Spirit prompts us to acts of faith, hope and love.  A collaboration between divine grace and our freedom focuses attention on God and gives rise to virtue.  What is being achieved in our soul results in a way of life which speaks of Christ.  The lampstand awaits the illumination which takes place first interiorly.  The external signs of faith - public acts, service of others and courageous standing-up for what is believed - are outward proofs of what is going on within.  Share your bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor [13].  Obedience to such precepts can be observed but it arises from an interior disposition to do what God wants. 

Your light must shine in the sight of others so that seeing your good works they may give praise to your Father in heaven [14].  The glory of God is our aim.  Our good deeds must therefore be done openly in such a way as to glorify God and not ourselves.  No doubt there is a risk of our best efforts being tainted by vanity and self–regard.  However, if we are labouring as disciples for the truth, the Holy Spirit, whose power is demonstrable[15], will keep us faithful to the One who has made us and taught us.  His light, shining in us, will illuminate other lives.  People may not be so dazzled by rival attractions or by suspicion as we fear. They are in darkness longing for light.  Jesus sends us to them.  We know about darkness and we have discovered the light.

Our faith… depends on the power of God [16].  Our being the light of the world for others is the work of God.  He enables us to be faithful to the teaching we have received. Jesus has shown us how to live and, in the essential, what to say. The Spirit guides us. The others, in the best case, will have eyes only for the Lord.  He is the light, shining through us. We become invisible, as perhaps we always wanted.  In his light, they are drawn to the same happiness in which we also hope.  The light once found is for sharing.  Being the light of world is an inescapable duty and a happy task. The joy is in the sharing of Christ.  To offer him to others, to allow him to shine out from us and to live openly in his way is to be very happy.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]     Matthew 5.14

[2]     Matthew 5.16

[3]     Psalm (112) 111.7

[4]     1 Corinthians 2.3

[5]     Isaiah 58.8

[6]     Matthew 5.14

[7]     Matthew 5.11

[8]     1 Corinthians 2.2

[9]     Matthew 5.4

[10]    Matthew 5.10

[11]    Thomas More, ‘Letter to his daughter, Margaret’ July 5th, 1535, written the day before his execution

[12]    Matthew 5.15

[13]    Isaiah 58.7

[14]    Matthew 5.16

[15]    1 Corinthians 2.4

[16]    1 Corinthians 2.5