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3 Before Lent



Several times in recent weeks I have enjoyed looking up at the night sky. Just after sunset, low in the West, there has been the bright light of Venus. In the south-west, the white light of Jupiter has outshone all but the moon. And then, higher towards the south, there has been the distinctive orange/red of Mars, close to the Pleiades star cluster.

With these beautiful, bright planets, we naturally talk of them shining. In fact, of course, what we see of them, is entirely the reflected light from the sun. The planets themselves do not generate light. But what they do very well is to pass on, to share and disseminate, the glory of a greater light.

Today’s gospel reading begins with a surprising statement from Jesus. It comes early in his teaching, known as the sermon on the Mount.  We can imagine him on a Middle Eastern hillside, crowds gathered close to catch his every word. Jesus is trying to convey to them the fullness of life into which God invites each one of us. He is looking for images to nudge us closer to God – in what we do, in how we perceive and understand ourselves, others, and our role in the world.

And what Jesus says here is quite remarkable. It’s really not what I would have expected. Knowing what we know about Jesus, I expect something different. Yes, Jesus picks up the familiar biblical theme of light. God’s light features strongly in the old Testament. For instance, in the Psalms (you are my light and my salvation), and in Isaiah (arise, for your light has come). And light is a strong theme in John’s gospel. In Jesus was life and the life was the light of all people. And supremely, Jesus says “I am the light of the world.” That is – Jesus is the light of the world. That’s what we expect. That makes sense.

So what’s going on in today’s reading. Jesus is proposing a different take. Here he says, you are the light of the world. (it’s you plural, rather than talking to just one person) , so we, together, are being described by Jesus as the light of the world. Really?

I wonder how that proposition strikes you - that we are the light of the world? Amazing? Unrealistic? Perhaps you hear it as a pressure?  

Or might we see it as an invitation, and as an encouragement? God is well aware that none of us are perfect. And yet, as he delights in us, as he looks on us as his beloved children, so the light of his life and love shine through us, and are reflected in us. For most of us, there’s nothing like being delighted in, to bring out the best in us, to help us shine that little bit more. Delight leads to light.

And just like the planets, it seems to me that it’s always God’s light that does the shining. Yes, we have a part to play, but that part is largely getting out of the way of the light of God. Letting go of those things that block the light.

One final thought: they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I wonder whether something similar applies here: perhaps that light is in the eyes of the looker. When we look at other people, do we expect to see the light of God shining in and through them? Are we on the lookout for ways in which God’s goodness is visible in their lives? And if we were on the lookout, I wonder whether we might notice even more lights shining all around us - and whether those lights might be encouraged to radiate even more warmly.


  1. When you read of Jesus saying “You are the light of the world”, how do you experience it? For instance, does it seem unrealistic, a pressure, an inspiration, all of the above?
  2. Bring to mind somebody whom you sometimes find difficult - and who is nonetheless created in the image of God. What can you discern of God’s light in their life?


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