As we enter into the fifth week in Ordinary Time, we can still recall with joy what we celebrated in the Season of Christmas: the coming of a glorious new light into a world of darkness. Jesus truly is the Light of the World. He has come to enlighten us, to enliven us with his Spirit, and to lead us by his light to the fullness of life with the Father.

Today’s readings remind us that we are not only recipients of the divine light; we are also bearers of this gift to the world. The gospel acclamation makes the connection clear for us: “I am the light of the world, says the Lord: the man who follows me will have the light of life.” In other words, when we follow Jesus, then we have light to give to others. In the gospel Jesus himself tells us that we are “the light of the world.” We are beacons of light, like a city set on a hill, guiding all people to his kingdom. We are “salt,” with a special task of preserving the life of faith and giving it zest and flavor.

Initially, the Lord’s words fill us with gratitude and joy at the prospect of being his chosen instruments and sharing in his redeeming work. What a privilege to be considered his “special ingredient” in the world! It does not take long, however, for us to see that, with all our limitations, we are not very bright or very salty. Like Paul, we respond to the idea that we are somehow supposed to enlighten others with “weakness and fear, and with much trepidation.”

We can often recognize what will benefit others. For example, when we read the wise counsel of Isaiah, calling us to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and clothe the naked, we immediately sense the inherent goodness of such deeds. The prophet is directing us beyond the darkness of our fears and the blandness of our self-centeredness. But we are deeply affected by the “me-first” attitude of our culture, and even when it is obvious that our abundance obliges us to be more generous, we are slow to give. At times we get involved in some work of service, but our motives are mixed at best: we want to assuage our own guilt, we like the good feeling that comes with serving others, and we hope that people will notice what we are doing and think well of us.

The Lord does not expect us to be “perfect” before we begin to love. A little light is much better than no light. Isaiah’s prophecy indicates that it is in the very process of serving others that our less-than-altruistic motives can be purified. When we try to give selflessly, then our “light shall break forth like the dawn,” and our “wound shall quickly be healed.” That is, the dark wound of our own self-centeredness will be healed.

The reason this works is because the light and the healing power all come from God, not us. When we strive to love and serve, we quickly become aware of our selfishness and limited charity toward others. In our poverty, we have no recourse but to rely on God for his help. The Lord hears the cry of his poor ones and he generously provides for us. Paul’s experience in evangelizing the Corinthians convinced him of this process. He knew it was not his own wisdom that moved them to faith, for as he preached he had no eloquence or wise argumentation to give; he was deeply aware of his own foolishness. It was not his own power that moved them, for he felt nothing but weakness and fear. The real source of the grace that they received through Paul was “the convincing power of the Spirit.” Thus he concludes: “your faith rests not on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.”

We have all received divine light and the power of the Spirit through the gift of Baptism – which is sometimes referred to as the sacrament of enlightenment. “Having received in Baptism the Word, ‘the true light that enlightens every man,’ the person baptized has been ‘enlightened,’ he becomes a ‘son of light,’ indeed, he becomes ‘light’ himself” (CCC 1216).

Today the Lord is calling us to be the light that he has made us to be. He is shaking us out of the salt shaker of our comfort zone. Filled with his love, we are to bring that love beyond ourselves, to the poor, to those in darkness, to the peripheries. With the light of Jesus burning in our hearts, we can truly be light for others. We can bring seasoning to those who find life tasteless and hopeless. People cannot see Jesus, but they can see us. Seeing goodness in our acts, they can give praise to the Father. We cannot see Jesus, but we can see our neighbors, and we can love him in them, and join them in giving praise to the Father.

Am I a true light for others or am I self-centered? What are my motives for serving others? Do I rely on the Lord as my source of light?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.