Most Sundays, when I say the offertory sentence, I quote the King James Version of Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven.” (I hope Steve Pankey will be comforted in knowing that I usually change “men” to “others” for the sake of the Rite II service.) That verse is in the heart of Sunday’s gospel lesson, and, as I read the lessons this morning in preparation for a yet-to-be-written sermon, it’s where I find myself drawn.
Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven. What does it mean to let your light shine? What does it mean to be a light for the world? What does it mean for God to use your light to lead others to glorify him?
At staff meeting this morning, several of us broke into a spontaneous rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” It’s a song we learn as children. We hold our fingers up and wave them back and forth and declare that we’re going to let our light shine, let it shine, let it shine. But why? Why do we teach that to our kids? Why do we smile when a room full of grown-ups sings that song as if they were still little school children?
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” You. Not just him. You. No one, he says, lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket. Duh! You are the light of the world. Then why, Jesus asks us, are we hiding our light? Why aren’t we letting it shine “all over the neighborhood?”
Maybe it’s modesty. Maybe it’s forgetfulness. Maybe it’s sin. But, whatever it is, the ways of the world—the Satan who seeks to “blow it out”—make us act as if we aren’t the light Jesus declares us to be. Us. We are the light, and we should live that way. That doesn’t mean that we must live that way in order to be the light. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you want to be the light of the world, keep my commandments.” (See yesterday’s post on comparative righteousness.) He says, “You are the light of the world. So live like it!”
I think this is the basis for Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. It’s not that Jesus has a problem with their observance of the law. Why else would he say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets?” Instead, Jesus takes issue with the lives they live. What does it mean to be the light of the world and to let that light shine? Well, there’s a reason I say it right before we pass the offering plate. It’s because shining that light isn’t a self-aggrandizing gesture but an act of humility and sacrifice. No, it’s not just about money, but, then again, neither is passing the offering plate. It’s about giving up ourselves. It’s about knowing that being the light of the world is a gift from God and that showing others that gift isn’t about demonstrating one’s own righteousness but that which is given from God.