Thought for the week - 5 February 2023
"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven
Those message conveyed in today's gospel reading is stark in its simplicity and yet profound in its implication. The simple message: "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world," lays upon us an awesome responsibility.
"You are the salt of the world. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under foot by men." We use salt largely for flavouring food these days. This metaphor or parable suggests that the Christian or the Church is to add flavour or spice to the rest of humanity. But in antiquity and in the days before refrigeration, salt was equally important for preserving food. And so a second century Christian writer is able to say that "Christians are the soul of the world", responsible for its continuance in life. As Christians - the salt of the earth - we are meant to give flavour to society, that is to have an influence on those around us. If we don't try to have a Christian influence on others, if our lives are not a Christian witness then we are like salt that has lost its flavour - we are useless and good for nothing.
We are the salt of the earth. We are also "light of the world," a beacon shining in the darkness. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill top cannot be hidden." Those words remind me of an experience whilst walking the Pennine Way with three friends holiday many years ago. Two of us got lost and became separated from the other two who were better map readers that we were. We had somehow strayed from the path. We were heading for the small market town of Alston which nestles high up in the Pennines. Rather than retrace our footsteps to get us back on the path we decided to head off cross country. We could see the town high-up ahead of us glistening in the late afternoon sun and we just walked towards it - the city set on the hill. I remember at the time thinking of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem. And, of course, as today's Old Testament reading reminds us, Jerusalem is a city set on a hill. For Micah there is more than geographical significance in this. For Micah the holy city is a beacon drawing many nations to it to be taught the law of God. "It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the house of Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come and say: 'Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways, and we may walk in his paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
The city built upon a hill that Jesus was thinking about was of course Jerusalem. But he is speaking in parables. We are to be the city built on the hill top, and "city built on a hill top cannot be hidden." As Christians we are to have a 'high profile', to use modern jargon.
"No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put
it on a lamp stand where shines for everyone in the house." Of course they put the lamp on the lamp stand where it can shine to good effect. For what use is a lamp that cannot be seen. To the tourist a lighthouse is an attractive part of the coastal scenery. To the sailor it is a godsend, and makes all the difference between reaching the safety of the harbour or being shipwrecked. A lighthouse has to be in a prominent position where it can be seen for miles out to sea, a welcome symbol of the safe return to harbour.
"In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven." Need I say more. "In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, that seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven." As Christians our actions, our lives are not meant to draw attention to ourselves, but to God. We are meant to reflect God's goodness and love that others may be brought to worship him. It was said of the early Christians, in the ruthless world of the Roman empire, "Look at those Christians how they love one another." Those early Christians drew others to them because their light was strong and clear. They were noted for their faith, their strength, their joy and above all their love. Look at those Christians how they love one another." It was that love, along with their faith and their hope, which drew others to them, and through them to Christ.
The key to evangelism is the lives of Christians, their example in loving. The Church would be renewed and strengthened and the world transformed if people could look to Christians and say, "Look at those Christians, how they love one another." And then Micah's dream would be become a reality with swords beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, with nation no more lifting up sword against nation , not learning war any more. But whilst Christian fights with Christian Micah's dream and vision, remains just that, dream and a vision. Let us in our own way try to bring that dream and vision to reality. Let us do it by our example and light. The first hymn I ever learned as a child was "Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine." We must shine, but let us come out of our small corner and shine together, so that others seeing our good works will glorify our Father who is in heaven.
"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your who is in heaven."