Friday, February 3, 2017

The Light of the World

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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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. Two weeks ago the Sunday reading proclaimed Christ as the great light shining on a people in darkness. 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). On this day candles are blessed 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 and 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.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about light allowing us to see clearly. Darkness causes us to stumble around, not able to see where we are going. Light allows us to find our way. But light does something else for us. 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. I can see well enough to walk out to the pasture gate without the light, but I use the flashlight to see while I unlatch the chain holding the gate shut.

When I was doing this recently, I noticed something. The flashlight was shining on the gate, so I could see that very clearly. But at the same time everything else got 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.

It is not that other things cannot be good or important. But the cares of the world look different in light of Jesus. In the light of Christ and what He has done for us -- sacrificing Himself for our sins, freeing us from death, restoring us to union with the Father -- the concerns of this world fade away. This is not say that we have no concern for the world, but rather that our primary concern is Jesus Christ and our concern for the world should be the concern of Christ.

When we stand in the presence of Christ's light, all we see is Him. Everything else is viewed in that light. When we look upon those who are hungry, we see Christ, and so we feed them. When we look upon the homeless, we see Christ, and so we shelter them. When we look upon the naked, we see Christ, and so we clothe them. When we look upon the stranger, we see Christ, and so we welcome them. When we look upon our neighbor, we see Christ, and so we love them.

We are not worried about trying to save the world, because the world already has a Savior. Instead, we love the world He has come to save. It is a world that contains suffering, yes. But it is a world made beautiful by His light.

So I implore you all today to let the light of Christ shine through you, in you, and before you. Orient your life by this light. Use it to navigate through the world. Allow it to illuminate your path. Let Christ's light do what it was meant to do. Let it give you focus. And let it shine out from you like a beacon, glorifying God by your works of love.

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