As William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice draws to a close, Portia and Lorenzo, her bridegroom, travel at night to their home. Nearing home, they hear sweet music carried softly on the nighttime breeze and Portia sees a distant light burning in the window of their home. She exclaims, “How far that little candle throws his beams— So shines a good deed in a naughty world”(Act 5, Scene 1, lines 90-91).
Good deeds shine brightly like diamonds and lift the human heart in this world -- a world both naughty and charged with the grandeur of God. The quality of merciful deeds done as the work of our hands can remind us of the quality of God’s own tender mercies toward us. The Prophet Isaiah attests to the bright lightness of this mercy:
“Thus says the Lord:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and 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.”
Encouraging us to put the words of scripture into action, the Gospel of Matthew amplifies Isaiah’s urgent call to serve the weakest members of the family of God
Doing. Acting for the good of others. In the Sermon on the Mount and in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, the evangelist urges followers of “The Way” to act promptly. Feeding the hungry and slaking people’s thirst. Visiting the sick and imprisoned. Truly welcoming the stranger and the alien, and sharing clothing with those in need. All these deeds done for the weakest around us are what shine a great distance and greet God’s eye.
“Show your love in deeds not just in words” – advises St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. For the Gospel of Matthew and for St. Ignatius, our identity as believers is all wrapped up in Christian service given for the good of others. For Matthew it is an urgent doing, an urgent action. Matthew’s imperative invites us to recognize how we are already serving the neediest among us. For the Holy Spirit is already powerfully active in the Church inspiring us to serve the neediest and to invite all to deeper faith.
Somehow in the doing – God draws near.
Somehow in the doing – mercy shines forth to lift the spirits of all people.
The gospel passage closes with the evangelist’s words saying that they set a light on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before all people so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to God.
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