Once a month a group of us volunteers go to Northern State Prison where we spend time with some of the men incarcerated there. Our time is spent talking and in discussion groups, praying and singing hymns. (A commercial message: if you’d like to learn more about Prison Ministry, please let me know.) Most of the songs we sing, fortunately for those of us who can’t carry a tune, are easy to sing along with, and the residents bring an infectious energy and gusto to each hymn. A song that’s always popular with the men is “This Little Light of Mine”. As an aside, this hymn was sung at the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. And no, even though I’m English, I didn’t get an invitation. What’s with that!
Earlier this year we heard in Matthew 5 the gospel where Jesus tells the disciples that they are the “Light of the World”. (He also told them they were the “Salt” but that’s for another time.) To provide a little context here, Jesus has just begun His ministry: He’s been baptized by John the Baptist, fasted for 40 days in the desert, called the first disciples, preached the Sermon on the Mount, and now He’s telling these new disciples that they are indeed the light of the world. The first thing that’s obvious here is that given they are rookie disciples, new on the job as it were, one could infer that there must be little or no qualifications needed to be the “light”; you just need to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus goes on to say that “their light must shine before others so that their good deeds can be seen and glorify their heavenly Father”. Note in Jesus admonition, He separates light and good deeds. So, I wonder what He means by “light”?
Typically, we think of light as the opposite of darkness. The way through which we can see things that might not otherwise be visible. In this respect, Jesus wanted the disciples through how they lived their lives, using the Sermon on the Mount as a foundation, to be the light that revealed the presence of the living God. But there’s another side to this. At the start of John’s gospel, he says that Jesus is “the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. This implies that the darkness is not merely an absence of light, but a force unto itself. So what is that darkness to which John refers?
I would suspect that this “darkness” is what we call sin: the evil in the world manifested through our behaviors and values, whether at a personal, institutional or national level. At times in our history, during for example the Holocaust or more recently the Rwandan Genocide, it must have felt like the world was dominated by out of control dark or evil forces. Even today with the rise in racism, images of children kept in cages, disrespect for our earthly environment, and so on, it can be easy to feel that there is little good left in the world. But hold on a minute. Maybe this is where Jesus expected his disciples, and oh yeah, us too, to let our light shine. That through the hope that shines in our lives, we will show that the darkness has not and will never win.
Apparently Gandhi said that he thought Jesus teachings were great, and that if he ever met someone who lived them, he would convert to Christianity. (He obviously never met St. Teresa of Calcutta.) But there’s a message here for all of us. And during this time of Lent we are especially called to reflect on how we are living our lives to ensure we are indeed the light of the world, so that as the last line of that hymn goes, we can……
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.