5th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
When Ronald Reagan in the eighties used the image of a “shining city on a hill” to describe the United States, it was a point of pride and patriotism. But in the original setting on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s “City set on a mountain” that “cannot be hidden” sounds more like a warning. Jesus has shared his truth with his disciples and they know what the kingdom of God consists of. We do too.
We know it is a kingdom of peace. We know we are to lead with mercy. We know that it is a place of compassion. We know it is a kingdom of justice. That is the stuff of the city on the mountain and the whole world knows it. Now it seems that strangely enough, both those who are most hopeful about Christianity and those who are most cynical ask the same question. When you will come down from the mountain and bring forth the kingdom of God?
For we are the light of the world. And there is something special about this metaphor. Unlike salt that can lose its seasoning, perhaps when the enthusiasm of new found faith dies down, light endures. Jesus does not say it can be turned off or the oil run dry. It is a given to those who belong to the kingdom. The only thing you can do to halt its effectiveness is to hide it. He seems to be saying that once the word of God is heard, it cannot be unheard; once you know the truth, you cannot think it is a lie.
You can only shield a light. You can put in a bushel basket, which is exactly what we are tempted to do. We can pack up that light and show it only where we want it to shine, to our family and friends, just within our clique. We can live highly compartmentalized lives where the best and most loving part of ourselves is seen by but a few. But we are called not to confine the light. We must share it – to “set it on a lampstand,” where it can shine brightest and most widely.
Light is like the love of God. It is undefeated. If you were to light a match in the innermost recesses of the darkest cave, at least where that match burned, light would prevail. Darkness is just the absence of light or as John’s Gospel reminds us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” So wherever we spread the light of Christ, expect it to make a difference in warming your coolest relationship, in forgiving your must estranged loved one, in finding the soul that needs your love. For I believe that for your co-worker or the stranger or the kid no one pays attention to in your class – if you merely flicked one ray of your light, it could make the difference between despair and hope.
So let your light dispel the darkness of injustice, isolation and persecution. Aim it at your friend, your family and the stranger. Trust in its power for it flows from God. Know that you were called to shine that light and perhaps only your light may reach someone. You are the light of the world.