February 5, 2023; Matthew 5:13-16; 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There is a tomb in Westminster Abbey on which the following reflection is written: “When I was young, I tried to change the world. The world did not budge. As I grew older, I thought I could change my country. My country did not cooperate. As I approached retirement, I attempted to change my family. They would have none of it. Now as I lie dying, I realize the only thing I can change is myself. Had I done that sooner, perhaps the rest would have followed.”
This reflection is not far from the teaching of Jesus. We know that Jesus’ mission was to announce the gospel, the kingdom of God. When Jesus tries to tell his disciples what role they are to play in the kingdom, he uses images. And the images that he uses are important. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us we are “the light of the world” and we should let our light shine. Jesus does not say we are “the hammer of the world” by which to build the kingdom. He does not say we are “the engine of the world” by which to power the kingdom. He does not even say that we are “the voice of the world” by which to describe the kingdom. He says we are “the light of the world,” and our job is to let our light fall on others, to illumine them by the good things that we do. This is how Jesus expects the kingdom to come about.
So our job is not to change people but to change ourselves so that our lives can radiate a goodness that others can see. That goodness need not be definitive or earth shattering. It is good enough that our goodness is positive and sincere. When we are kind enough in the supermarket to help an elderly woman take her groceries out of her cart in the checkout line, our light shines. When we are brave enough at school to speak to the classmate who others shun or ridicule, our environment becomes a bit brighter. When we are compassionate enough to visit a neighbor who has just lost his wife after 50 years of marriage—purporting to bring him cookies but in fact simply wanting to break his loneliness—we inch the world closer to the kingdom of God.
When Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, he is reminding us that our job is not to change people but to illumine them. Then, as they stand in the light that our simple acts of kindness emits, God can change them. That is why we are the light of the world. That is why we are asked to let our light shine.
2 thoughts on “Shining on Others”
Your homilies are so uplifting and thought-provoking, Father George. Thank you so much for sharing them!
Father George, what a wonderful reflection! Thank you for how you continue to brighten our shared faith experiences! Chris H.