The theme of today’s Alleluia verse —I am the light of the world— is clearly echoed in the gospel —I came into the world as light. He came as a light that shone in the midst of darkness, as the prologue of John’s gospel tells us. To be light in the midst of darkness captures quite aptly the Lord’s mission in being sent by the Father, as well as that of those called to continue his mission beyond the time and space where the observed testimony of his life was a light in the midst of darkness. Indeed Jesus himself told his disciples: You are the light of the world [Mt. 5:14].
But Jesus follows that statement with the injunction: ...your light must shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father [Mt. 5:16]. The point of others’ seeing our good deeds is not that they recognize our light, but that they give praise to the Father. A light is not there to be stared at, but to render the surrounding reality visible. Unless we are in a familiar room or reading by our reading lamp, we probably do not know (or care) how many light sources are in the room, we just recognize objects with the help of that light. In the same passage of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth. Now salt is not there to be eaten, but only to render palatable what we want to eat. Salt and light share that nature. We are not sent to be seen or tasted, but to help others see and taste.
Being light, of course, can be perceived in different ways by different people. Some feel called to be a spotlight, a strobe light, a photo flash. In the old days a photo flash came in the form of a flash bulb that gave out a brief and very intense light and then died. We have seen such lights in the Church’s scene, people who for a short time gave out what seemed to be a guru-like flash and then disappeared from the scene, as if burnt out. No doubt some people are called to shine brightly, but that very calling makes it imperative that they be “rechargeable”, that they remain connected to the One who is Light, and that they point others to that Light, not to their own.
Then of course there are the very many of us, who feel called to be a steady light of whatever intensity God may have gifted us with, called to help others to look not at us, but at the reality of their lives in that Light. As Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. wrote shortly before being hanged by the Nazi regime in the infamous Plötzensee prison, When through one man (meant inclusively, I am sure) a little more love and goodness, a little more light and truth come into the world, then that man’s life has had meaning. [In Angesicht des Todes, translated as Letters from Prison].
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