“No one lights a lamp and hides it under a jar or puts it under a bed” (from Luke 8:16-25). That’s right. That makes sense. No one would do that. No one would turn on a flashlight and then stick it in a drawer. So why then, Jesus asks us, do we hide our own light from the rest of the world?
How old were you when you first learned the importance of fitting in—of not sticking out? I have specific memories from my childhood of other kids pointing out that my shoes were not the same brand as theirs, that I wasn’t athletic enough to play on their team, that my love of learning and the ease with which I picked up new concepts more closely identified me with the teacher than with my peers. I knew what it meant to be different and what it felt like to want to fit in. I hid my grades from the other kids, sometimes getting things wrong just to have something in common with others. I faked injury or illness or disinterest on the playground to avoid the pain of being picked last for the kickball team. I came home and pleaded with my mother to buy me name-brand shoes and clothes so that no one would laugh at me. From early on in my childhood, I knew what it meant to try to be like the other kids.
But it goes deeper than that. Now, as a parent, I feel this strange mixture of wanting my child to be the fastest and smartest kid in school but, at the same time, not wanting him or her to stand out too much. “Don’t brag,” I quickly say to my children when they start talking about their own accomplishments. “It isn’t nice to talk about how great you are.” That’s just polite behavior. We learn it from our parents and from experience. No one like spending time with another person who goes on and on about how great he or she is. Modesty is prized. Humility is celebrated. Arrogance—and I know a thing or two about arrogance—is criticized and shunned. So, again, we learn from an early age not to celebrate our successes, not to showcase our gifts and talents, not to let our light shine.
But Jesus wasn’t encouraging his disciples to brag about their faith, and he certainly isn’t asking us to stand up and tell the world how much better we are than they. But he is telling us to let the light of Christ, which burns in our hearts, shine visibly to others. He’s telling us to stick out because of our faith. He’s telling us to allow our identity as the ones God has redeemed and renewed be a beacon to others. And what does that look like here and now?
I sense that we are entering a new age in our history in which the distinctiveness of Christianity is not welcomed by our culture. No, none of is likely to be killed for letting our light shine the way that the disciples risked death by standing up for Christ. But we do take risks for letting the gospel reign in our public lives. And I absolutely, positively don’t think that Jesus wants us to take a bullhorn and stand on a street corner and warn passersby that they must repent or perish. No, that’s isn’t letting Christ’s light shine; that’s confusing the spark of God’s love with the fires of fear and intimidation and self-righteousness.
I’m talking about the hard, unpopular, sacrificial message of the gospel. What does the gospel say about taking care of the poor? What does it say about rich people entering God’s kingdom? What did Jesus teach about giving food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty? What role does violence have in God’s kingdom? How many times are we supposed to forgive? What are we called to do when someone strikes us or begs from us or compels us to walk with him? What does it say about prioritizing family over doing God’s will? What does it say about divorce? What does it say about a hand or a foot or an eye that causes us to sin?
Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed. If the light of Christ is shining in your heart, then it can and will and must shine outwardly in your life. Pick up your cross and follow him—not just quietly in your heart but publicly in your daily life. Stand up for the gospel. Let the shape of your life reflect the shape of your faith—the shape of the gospel. The mother and brothers of Jesus are those who hear God’s word AND do it. By that definition, are you a part of Christ’s family?