Matthew 5: 13-16
Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He adds, “. . . your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.”
If we were to witness the events of this passage being acted on stage, I think we would find them humorous: Jesus telling a motley group of puzzled followers, many illiterate, that they are the light of the world. The scene reminds me of an experience in a freshman religion class when I suggested that it was they who would determine how our postmodern world ultimately would be defined. We all laughed upon hearing a clearly audible whisper, “O God.” These freshmen were not quite sure they were up to the task. And when we hear the gospel passage in church on Sunday, we assume that Jesus is talking to those first disciples, surely not to us. Deep down, like my freshman class, we know we are not capable of being the light of the world.
The passage becomes good news, and not a cause for discouragement, only if we hear it in the context of the gospel that Jesus proclaims. Jesus himself is the light of the world. He is so empty of self and so transparent to the divine action in his humanity that he will be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” It is only because we, through the gift of the Spirit, become one with Christ, that we can be the light of the world, never by our own light alone.
The life implications of this gospel are practical and profound. The optimism of the great song “We Shall Overcome” is too easily shattered when racism or the violence of any injustice, in fact, seems to overcome the light. An invincible hope is possible only when we realize that it is through divine action that the kingdom of God is established in this world. “We Shall Overcome” is a song of unconquerable hope when the “we” includes “God is with us.”
The conclusion of the eucharistic prayer of the Mass is an expression of the deepest truth of Christian faith: “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” Jesus is saying to you and me: “…your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.