I’ve read it a zillion times and I just assumed it was too easy to understand to spend time on it. So I didn’t. But now I stop and now I ponder.
Everything Jesus said in his message on the mountain was shocking. Everything. Including this seemingly innocent little section. Here it is:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
If you just read these verses it seems in every single way that we are to do our good works in front of others that they may see and thank the Lord. Almost as if we are to be obvious with our good deeds.
We know this can’t be the interpretation. Jesus has just spent so much time talking about humility and not letting your right hand know what your left is doing when you give and so much more. This text at face value is really quite shocking.
I do think that good deeds are the result of the light, but not necessarily the light itself. Light is bigger than good deeds because Jesus is the light (Jn 8:12). If we walk in the ways of the kingdom (something Matthew spoke of often), then we will live as people of light and are indeed the light of of the world. When we do this we will help the poor, lift up the broken, be a voice for the voiceless and care for the orphan and widow. When we do these things we show that we are walking in the light, in the kingdom, in the way God desires things to be. Good deeds are the fruit of walking in the light.
So why would Jesus speak of this? Why would people want to hide their light under a bowl?
- False Humility – Sometimes people try so hard to “be humble” that they actually hide their good deeds. It is actually a very subtle form of self-righteousness. Modesty and humility are important. But if it keeps us helping the greater good then it is a problem.
- Social pressure – This is more real than we realize. Accusations of “do you think you’re better than everyone else” really do affect action.
- Laziness or indifference – Light will act. It shines. It is useful and influential. If it does nothing then it is not serving the purpose as light.
The issue of influence is definitely a key here. Mainly because he has just spoken of the salt of the earth. We are the salt of the earth and if we fail to influence those around us, then we really are worthless salt. In the same way that salt flavors food, the role of light is to shine. To act. To care. To do something about brokenness. And it’s easy to find reasons not to act on a consistent basis. But if we are light it’s our job. It is actual unnatural not to shine.
This text is still an irritant under my skin, a bur under my saddle and the piece of soap in my shower. There’s more to it. But time to move on for now. Lord, show me more, please.