Historians today consider Abraham Lincoln to be one of the greatest, presidents of this country. However, that greatness was not evident to all during his lifetime. Lincoln received a large amount of bitter – and often contradictory – criticism.
To his critics, Lincoln told a story about a traveler who got caught in a terrible thunderstorm. The night was totally dark and the flashes of lightning provided the only clues to the path. One bolt struck quite close and the crash of thunder brought the man down to his knees. He was not a praying man, but he made a short fervent (eager) petition, “Oh Lord! If it’s all the same to you, give me a little more light and a little less noise.”
All of us can identify with that prayer. We live in a world of a lot of noise. It can sometimes confuse and disorient us. What we need is less noise and a bit more light. Today’s first reading, as well as the Gospel, tells us how we are to be light and salt to the wider world.
The Book of Prophet Isaiah is divided into three sections. Today’s reading is from the third section of Isaiah which witnesses the struggle and hope for blessing of the post-Babylonian exilic community. They are back in the homeland. Their efforts to survive created a deep division in the community. It was the survival of the strongest, and the poor and homeless were ignored. In this contest prophet Isaiah told them to “share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, and clothe the naked. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). But elsewhere in John 8:12 Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.” Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. In the Old Testament Moses gave Ten Commandments in the Old Testaments. In the New Testament Jesus gave a new law at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking about the flesh and blood embodiment of the light. As long as he is physically present in the world he is the light of the world, but when he is no longer physically present his followers now assume the role of being the light of the world.
As a light, we are called to show the way. Without light, we bump into each other and fall into the ditch. But light says: “Here is the road, take it; here is danger, avoid it.” Light illumines and reveals it. Without light and salt, the world would be in very bad shape, uninteresting and impossible to live in. With light and salt, the world becomes a safer and better place. It is our duty as Christians to make the world a better place.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta did all she had done out of love and it brightened the whole world. It was this love that moved people so deeply. Commenting on this point, former British TV star Malcolm Muggeridge said in effect: “I can’t tell you how much I owe to Mother Teresa. She showed me Christianity in action. She showed me love in action. She showed me how the love one person can start a tidal wave that can spread across the world.”
Indeed Mother Teresa shows how can be the light of the world. Mother Teresa didn’t set out to pare her light before people. She simply set out to love. And in loving, she became ‘a light for the whole world’.