2/5/2017 Light of the World


Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Ordinary Time)
Isaiah 58:1–12; Psalm 112:1–10; 1 Corinthians 2:1–16; Matthew 5:13–20

Oddly enough, the Revised Common Lectionary makes no mention whatsoever of “Super Bowl Sunday,” even now 50 years after the first one in 1967. But it does pick up the thread in Matthew’s Gospel from last week’s Beatitudes with a discussion of how we disciples are to be both salt and light in the world. Salt, of course, gives flavor to food while light exposes what hides in the darkness. I’m quite sure Jesus and Matthew both want us to go beyond literal understandings to a more literary and metaphorical discussion.

As a sit at my computer I notice that the three light bulbs in the ceiling fixture over my right shoulder provide much needed supplement to the cloudy day outside my window. Two of them are CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs; the third is an old-fashioned incandescent. All three look alike, though. These CFLs have their squiggly shaped tubes encased in a frosted outer globe. They take a while to brighten to capacity, so the regular bulb provides enough bright light in the room until then. That delayed bright light annoys a lot of folks, but I don’t mind the wait. One of the things I find most attractive about CFLs (other than the lower energy cost) is the fact they don’t get as hot as regular bulbs.

Light and heat at the same time isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but generally speaking I think it’s better to have the light without dealing with heat, too. Metaphorically speaking, I’ve had more than a few conversations (certainly in church situations but more recently as part of political discourse) where whatever light that was introduced quickly became overwhelmed by heat (note: there’s a reason “hot” and “bothered” are paired so often).

On a rather different note, I doubt that Jesus counseled his listeners to be “light” simply so everybody else could see them better and then hold them up as exemplars of righteousness. No, this “let your light shine” idea is not at all about personal ego, reputation, or recognition–and certainly has nothing to do with being the source of “heat” in any situation. I think it’s much more about the good things that come about when light (a metaphor with so many meanings, not the least of which are theological) is brought to bear.

marchersFor one thing, to bring things into the light means to bring them out into the open, where they can be viewed openly, honestly, and forthrightly. I’m not sure where all the current unrest in the USA (and related to it, elsewhere in the world) will eventually lead, but if nothing else it shines a light on the workings of a new regime in Washington, D.C. With my undergraduate degree in journalism and a few years working as a newspaper reporter, I’m intrigued with some news from Reuters. That highly respected international news-gathering organization is now advising its reporters and editors to cover U.S. President Donald Trump the same way they would dictators in repressive, developing countries. It doesn’t necessarily take a million people gathered in one place or at one time to make a difference, of course. The quiet actions of a single person can improve another life, bring healing or hope or sustenance of some kind. That, too, is being “salt” and “light,” as Jesus proclaimed.

The prophet Isaiah also had some things to say about “light.” He called his people to go beyond fasting, beyond sackcloth and ashes (the ordinary, typical way of showing how religious one is), to bring light into a darkened world:

…if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. –Isaiah 58:10-12 NRSV

The recently returned-from-exile Jews had complained to God that their fasting didn’t appear to make any difference to God. Without denigrating religious ritual, however, God responded that ritual without action was the problem. Religious practice without it leading to social justice is a dead end, the prophet contended. Likewise, to “raise up the foundations of many generations” invokes the idea of long-lasting, perhaps permanent change. What I do in my lifetime may seem at the time to be as inconsequential, possibly futile, as marching with like-minded folks trying to make a point. On the other hand, it could be a tipping point, a kairos moment, of God’s Spirit breaking in to make everything new.

0001-42COMING IN FEBRUARY. My new book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, will be available on Amazon in both e-book and print formats. The experiences of ancient Hebrew prophets are presented as a guide for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in social-justice action. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion.

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About Rich Brown

Rich Brown is a writer, blogger, editor, and publisher. His most recent book is "Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile" (Isaac's Press).
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