5 Epiphany—Year A
February 9, 2014
Since our move to Boxford in September for the first time in my life I’m living on a road without street lights. I didn’t really notice it until Daylight Savings ended and I had to walk our black dog Charlie in the pitch dark.
Of course metaphorically, there have been plenty of times when I have been in the dark—my first years of high school dating come to mind.
And there are days even now when I’m in the dark as to my own inner world of reactions.
So what allows Jesus to make the startling claim: “You are the light of the world”?
First, notice he doesn’t say, “If you read the Bible, say your prayers, and work really hard, one day you’ll become the light of the world.”
He doesn’t say, only those like Saint Francis and Mother Teresa, are the light of the world.
He says, “You ARE the light of the world.”
You can’t earn it, work for it, or generate it though effort. How can you go get something you already are?
It’s like looking for your glasses when they are on your head.
As Richard Rohr says, “You can’t get there, you can only be there.”
Something in me says, “Nice try Jesus. I’m willing to believe you are the light of the world, but I’m not willing to believe we are the light of the world. We are too much like the people you talk about: the blind leading the blind– who end up in the ditch. Matthew 15:14
So unless we want to claim Jesus doesn’t know what he is talking about, we must look more deeply into this.
City boy that I am it took me awhile to realize that on many nights there is plenty of light to walk Charlie. Even the half-moon gives enough light to see where I’m going and on clear nights the full moon is so bright Charlie and I are casting shadows and I can read my watch without having to push the Day-Glo button.
At night the moon is the light of the world.
But the moon has no light of its own; it can only reflect the light of the sun.
So it is with you and me: all we can do is to reflect the light that comes from the Son.
We are the light of the world but it isn’t our light.
AND—When we live only for ourselves alone the light which belongs to God and reflects through us gets hidden by the clouds of selfishness.
Then we become like the Dead Sea that takes in the water of the River Jordan and keeps it for itself, and becomes lifeless.
But not to worry—we humans know how to create artificial light.
We learn how to appear to be living for others. We become hypocrites—people pretending to care about others in order to build up ourselves.
Jesus says we are to so let our light shine that they will see our good works and give glory to God.
We prefer doing things that make us look good.
I was in 5th grade and part of a team of kids in the class who were dissecting a frog. I was the one using the knife, while another kid pinned the frog down and another was the reporter of this extraordinary event.
I can hear myself tell the reporter—of course a girl back in 1962—“Susie, be sure to tell them what a good job I did!”
This is cute when we’re kids—but not so much when we grow up.
Once we realize how hardwired we are to turn everything around to bring us glory, we will realize how hard it is to drop this craving for glory.
So if we are religious we decide to start working harder on ourselves.
But by this time we are trapped because we’ve set it up so the greedy ego is trying to fix itself and so we go, round and round, into the ground.
So we must be careful when we sing: “This little light of mine.”
The light isn’t mine, it belongs to God.
But until the Day of Resurrection we will remain hypocrites who enjoy the light shining on us even as we serve others.
How many times have you heard someone say: “I no longer go to church because it’s full of hypocrites”?
Here’s a response I heard recently: “Getting upset because there are hypocrites in church is like getting upset because there are flabby people in the gym.”
All we hypocrites can do is to trust God’s Word and act on it. Take the Word of God spoken through the Prophet that we hear today: He says, “Thus says the Lord”:
“Is not this what I choose for you:
…to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them…?”
This is the way forward: to simply do what God says to do: feed, clothe, and house—to heal the suffering. Just do it.
In spite of not wanting to, in spite of showing off for the cameras, in spite of not being able to take care of the billions who are in need—in spite of all this, just do it.
When? Whenever we see someone who is suffering.
How?—By asking God, “What can I give in this situation?”
Make this our goal in life—to live for others; to ask not what others can do for me, but to ask what I can do for others?
And notice what happens when we just do it: Isaiah says,
“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly”
“if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.”
Our good works don’t create the light they simply allow more of God’s light into the world.
We may get thanked, but God gets praised.
In 2009 my 9 year old nephew James, and I went to an interactive museum in Atlanta called “Dialog in the Dark”. A group of 10 of us were each given a white cane and placed in a room where shortly the lights went out.
I couldn’t see my hands or my feet or the white cane. We were blind—
But then a voice called out reassuring us that everything would be okay if we’d just listen to him and do what he said.
What choice did we have? We latched onto this authoritative voice even though we had no idea if even he could see any better than we could.
We trusted the voice and we started moving forward. We realized we were now in a grocery store where we could touch the vegetables, and then we were at a boat dock where we got into a boat and then we ended up in a restaurant where we sat in a big booth at a round table. We ordered Cokes and discussed our experience of being in total darkness.
Turned out of course that the voice belonged to a man who was stone blind.
Who do we listen to when we’re in the dark? Who knows the way and can get us safely through it?
We are the light of the world as disciples of the One who knows the way.
When we trust him enough to drop our excuses for selfish inaction and just do what God tells us to do.
You are the light of the world–so let it shine.