1 Kings 17:7-16
Psalm 4:2-5, 7-8
“You are light of the world,” Jesus says. “You are the salt of the earth,” he tells us. So let your light shine. Why? So that other people will see it. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the part, just a little further on in this sermon, where Jesus tells us to give secretly, to pray secretly, to fast secretly. I am sure that it is not a contradiction, but what then? What does it mean to shine before other people, if that does not include fasting or praying or giving to the poor?
Is there not virtue in giving publicly to an important cause so that other people will see and learn to give too? Is there not virtue in praying publicly against the death penalty or torture or abortion? Is there not virtue in a public fast where we as a Christian community admit the existence of God through public self-denial, such as not eating meat on Fridays? Are these not all examples of letting our light shine before other people that they might see our good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven?
Yes there is virtue in all of these things. So perhaps there is a contradiction? No, Jesus did not contradict himself. In the other part, Jesus is speaking about the Pharisees who like to show others the strength of their commitment. What they are showing comes from themselves and is intended to glorify themselves. In this case, what Jesus is telling his disciples to reveal to the world is the power of God working within them. The reason we should show off is not so that people will praise us, but so that they will praise God.
But if our actions will lead people to praise God, the standard has to be set quite a bit higher. My actions must not be merely quite good. Then people will simply think that I am yet another good person. They are rare but not too rare. My actions must astound people. They must reveal to all who see that an all-powerful being is working within me, like Elijah with the food jars. These actions might be miraculous in the traditional sense, but they might also be simply miraculously generous or astoundingly loving.
Whichever. If I am supposed to be this light of the world, people should look at me at say, “This is too good. This is more than a human is capable of. There must be something more at work here.”