The Light of the World
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The following is an edited version of a post originally written Feb. 3, 2017.
The days are starting to grow longer and as the amount of daylight increases, so too light has been a major theme of our liturgies. This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also called Candlemas. The gospel for that feast reveals Christ as a “light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (Lk 2:32). It is traditional to bless candles on this day, as a sign of the light of Christ come into the world.
In this Sunday’s readings, the theme of light is put before us again. The first reading from Isaiah speaks of God’s people shining like a light in the darkness when they follow God’s commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. The psalm response says that “a just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” In both of these Old Testament readings, light is tied to righteousness, upright moral living, and love of neighbor.
In the Alleluia verse before the gospel we hear Jesus identify Himself as the light. “I am the light of the world… whoever follows me will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Christ promises to share His light with those who follow Him, and in the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “You are the light of the world,” and admonishes them not to hide their light but to let it “shine before others” to the glory of God.
Christ is the light. Those who follow Christ share in His light, and by doing good deeds, living uprightly, and loving our neighbor, we share that light with others. Light symbolizes that which can be shared without loss. If I share half of my sandwich with you, that leaves me with only half a sandwich. But if I share the light of my candle by lighting the candle of another, the light from my candle is not lessened. Indeed, it has now increased, with two candles shining where before there was only one. So it is with our faith.
Light makes it possible for us to see clearly. Darkness causes us to stumble around, not able to see where we are going. For this reason light has always been used as a symbol for knowledge. Light helps us to find our way, but it does something even more. Light gives us focus.
My family keeps a small flock of sheep, who spend the night in a pen (called a “sheepfold,” which is a term we sometimes come across in the gospels). My morning routine involves letting the sheep out to pasture. Often in the winter it is still dark when I do this, so I take a flashlight with me to help me see to unlatch the gate.
When I was doing this recently, I noticed something. As I shone the flashlight on the gate, I could see it more clearly, of course. But I noticed that the beam of light shining on the gate also made everything else seem darker. Of course the world did not actually become darker when I turned on my flashlight. But as I looked at where the light was shining, my eyes adjusted to the higher light levels, making everything outside of that beam of light disappear into blackness.
The light from my flashlight lit up what I needed to see, but made everything else vanish. The light gave me focus.
The light of Christ should also give our lives this kind of focus. It should highlight that which is truly important, and obscure the many distractions of this world that pull us away from the path we are to follow.
St. Paul speaks of this focus in our second reading. He tells the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The light of Christ was shining in Paul. It gave him focus, allowing him to see nothing else. Paul preached one thing and one thing only to the Corinthians, and that was Jesus. He did not come to entertain them, to share in their gossip, to engage in debate about the fashions, philosophies or politics of the day. He came to share the light of Christ.