As we know the events of this past week have been very tumultuous with the terrorist attack in Nice, France, as well as the seemed to be failed military coup in the country of Turkey, and the protests that continue to go on in our city and cities around the country (regarding recent deadly police shootings). And so, in all of these events we think about the theme of light and how the actions of ourselves and other people can either bring light or darkness into the world.
In today’s gospel reading, the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod in Chalcedon (451AD), we hear in Matthew 5:14-19 Jesus, the King of the Jews tell His disciples, “You are the Light of the world” (v.14). The use of the word ‘light’ here is very important and must be understood in this way. Christ says about Himself: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). In addition, the prologue of John’s gospel it says that Jesus is the Word, that He is God, that in Him is life and that life is the light of men and that light shines in the darkness and that darkness does not understand, nor overcome that light (1:1-5).
Thus, in today’s passage, when Jesus says, “You are the light of the world” to His apostles and disciples, He is giving or bestowing His light to them. St. Hilary says the “Light of Christ is hung on the wood of the Cross. It sheds light on those in the Church.” Jesus then goes on to tell them what to do with His light. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (v.16). He uses a simple illustration to help them understand, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (v.14). One of the church fathers equates the city to the Church with the Apostles, Prophets and Teachers. The Greek word translated as ‘hill’ is ‘orous’ which is more correctly translated as ‘mountain’ and of course mountain in the scriptures and iconography is the place of God’s revelation. We only need remember Mount Sinai is where Moses encountered God the Lord and received the Law written on tablets of stone.
Jesus uses another example to emphasize the point, “15Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (v.15). The same commentator equates the “lamp” to the Divine Word and the Lighter of the Lamp is God (see Psalm 119:105). The lampstand is understood as an enlightened person or the Church, the community of enlightened people. Theodore Mopsuestia teaches that the bucket/basket equals vice and the lamp means virtue. One could also see the bucket or bushel basket as worldly concerns. The bottom line is that the light we receive from Christ is meant to be shared. In fact, it must be shared.
The next logical question is: How do we share the Light of Christ? Remember the Law that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. We share the light when we keep these commandments. Jesus says, 17“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one iota/tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v.17-19).
In other words, keep the commandments and teach others to do the same. Jesus’ teaching on the great commandment is illustrative. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself” (Mt.22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34).
In conclusion today (2016), considering all the tumult that has occurred this past week, this past month, year, and the things that will inevitably come to pass in the future, the only way to overcome darkness in the world is with light, the light of Christ. The light of Christ does not magically shine down from heaven to illuminate and dispel the darkness. It has a channel, an instrument, a vehicle, a vessel that it must come through it us, each one of us. As brothers and sisters in Christ, created in the image and likeness of God, we are a lens. As we receive the light of Christ, we can focus that light wherever we are by following His commandments, and teaching others to do so, by bringing peace into the world, and not chaos, destruction, violence and death. Let us receive the light by seeking Christ and by opening ourselves to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit through our Orthodox asceticism: fasting, prayer, almsgiving. We cannot have the light of Christ if we do not do these spiritual practices. And let us share the light through righteousness and good works. Let us glorify God by teaching others how to receive and share the light of Christ. We need Christ, the light of the world, and the world needs us to be light. Amen!