I had the privilege of preaching at my school’s Mass of the Holy Spirit this week. The Scripture reading was Matthew 4:14-16. It’s the well-known segment of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which includes “You are the light of the world.”
Watch the video below and/or read the text!
There is a lot of light in here. Light is flooding in through these large glass panes. Light is coming down in a focused way through these lamps on the ceiling. Light is coming in through these small panels – each with a hue and a value to make an impact.
Jesus uses a phrase today in the Gospel reading: “You are the light of the world.” But we’ll get back to that.
Jesus of Nazareth, was born in a tiny village on planet Earth about 2022 years ago. He grew up poor in ancient Middle East- round about an area we now call Palestine, a member of an oppressed group – a minority by both ethnicity and religion. And we Christians have come to believe that Jesus was and is the manifestation – the incarnation – of the one God. He became a leader in his small community, teaching about the God he knew and publicly imagining a new way to be human together.
And here comes Jesus in this story – he has pulled his followers up on a hillside and is teaching them about the ways of God. He goes on about the type of people who are “blessed” – the poor, the peacemakers, those who struggle for justice. And then he lays this on his disciples: “You are the light of the world.”
A couple of things to note about the time of Jesus:
Jesus grew up Jewish, in the tradition of great religious teachers called Rabbis who would instruct people about God by telling stories, writing down stories, and arguing about the meaning of stories. They were some of the only people at the time who knew how to read and write. They were thought of as close to God – quite worthy of reverence and respect. They were the scholars of the community. They had book smarts.
And in the time of Jesus, the Jewish people would call these scholars: “Lamps of the universe” or “lights of the world.” These scholars brought light – a symbol for understanding, for truth – to the people.
But in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus isn’t looking at a group of scholars when he says “YOU are the light of the world.” The light of the world. In fact, it must have sounded funny – almost ridiculous – to say “you are the light of the world” to a gathering of mostly uneducated, poor farmers, fisherpeople, and their families. But he said it to them. He said it to them: You are the light of the world. He twists the phrase and turns it on its head.
Suddenly we’re not talking about book smarts.
Jesus is saying that sure – God can be known through the study of sacred text. AND God can be known through the persons of Jesus’ followers, his apprentices, Their neighborhoods were occupied by soldiers from another country. They were enduring military brutality and poverty – most of them for their whole lives.
even if these folks do not appear to be “God people,” “holy people” “church-y” types. These gathered disciples certainly were not. And Jesus tells them : YOU. are the light of the world.
Just like in the skit- servers suddenly became coordinators – leader. The light of the world.
Similarly, Jesus turns to us today and proclaims: YOU are the light of the world. The Creator God can be known through you. There is a truth that only you can show.
Consider this set of small colorful windows behind me. Each glass pane is a certain color – perhaps you’re feeling the bright yellow today or the more muted seafoam green – the proud blue or the fierce red. Go ahead and pick one. Notice how the light streams through the color that catches your attention today. The light is separate from the glass. It’s behind the glass. But we couldn’t see the light without the glass. If this whole wall were just wall, there would be no light. Each color of glass filters out the other colors *just* to show the green or *just* to show the red. You do this for the Creator. You’re here to show just the light that is yours to show. You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors of the world.
And also YOU were made to show light. Like all of you- all of us – the you plural. Ustedes. Nosotros. We are here to show light as one body – one community. And Jesus is not even just talking to the humans in the room – the “more than humans” are here too. The molecules of oxygen, the waving trees just outside this room – and in the Living Lab. The animals – from birds to bugs – who call our campus home. In this Season of Creation especially, let’s not forget – Jesus is talking to them too – all the living creatures, especially those whom society has said are not worth it, disposable, don’t matter… Jesus says YOU (plural) are the light of the world. You bring out the God-colors of the world. And it makes God so happy.