[Homily. Mass. 20 September 2021]
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Lk 8:16).
When I read this line from our Gospel today, I immediately thought of Dr. Jenner Chan, Dean of our School of Business and Governance, the largest of our higher education schools. Dr. Jenner is famous among many other things for his mantra, “May the light shine forever!” The wish – or prayer – is part of his official address and personal identity.
Those of you who know Dr. Jenner’s cheerful, optimistic, supportive and friendly manner, may consider the mantra natural for him, reflecting the bright optimism of his personality. For him: there’s no time to waste wallowing in toxic situations. For him: Feel the refreshing breeze, smell the flowers, savor the flavors of life and love: let the light shine forever!
However, the quotation from our Gospel encourages more than the natural light of personal charisma to shine. Indeed, when Dr. Jenner uses this mantra, I believe he is also using it in the biblical sense: as an exhortation to believing members of the Christian community not to hide the light of their faith “under a bed” or “under a bushel basket”, but to put it on a lampstand that people may see and appreciate the light. Share the light of your faith; do not hide it in a dark and private closet. Let the light of your faith shine!
Referring to the immanent coming of the Messiah, Zachariah also uses the metaphor of light. He compares the coming Lord to the Dawn overcoming the darkness of night: “In the tender compassion of our God the Dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79). For the old man Simeon, long awaiting the coming of the Messiah, the Child he finally sees is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people, Israel” (Mt. 4:16). For the evangelist John, the light is associated with the Word, with God from the beginning, the Word that is God: “All things were made through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:3-4). John the Baptist was not the light, but “the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” (Jn 1:9-12). For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, God spoke to us in partial and various ways through the prophets, but now he speaks to us through a son, the “heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence, [the brilliance, the brightness, the light] of his glory, the very imprint of his being, who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1:2-3).
For John, for those who by God’s decision were enlighted enough to accept him as God’s Word of compassion and redemption, “he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). St. Luke is saying, if this is the light you bear, if you have been graced enough in the darkness of this world to recognize the Light, and so know yourselves empowered to be children of God, do not hide the Light under a bushel basket, but put it on a lampstand, so that others may see it and be saved. Do not fear! Do not think you can run away from this light, escape from this light into your private darkness and your personal ineptness. “Where can I flee from you presence?” the Psalmist asks. “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are there. If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, or darkness is as light to you.” (Ps. 139:2-9) Indeed John says his first letter, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5a). So, “If I walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff. With these you give me comfort’ (Ps 23:4). Indeed, let the light shine forever!
Let the light shine in your lives, allowing your selves to be transformed in your encounter with the Light. 1 John says, “Whoever says he is in the light yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light…” (1 Jn 1:9-10). Put away, as Paul said to the Colossians, “anger, fury, malice, slander and obscene language. Stop lying to one another since you have taken off the old self and its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed, for knowledge in the image [or in the light] of its creator. … Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord, Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3: 8-17).
So during this pandemic, be light in the manner in which you care for each other, share your burdens with others in trust, lighten each other’s burdens in generosity. Afflicted in this mesh of afflictions, encourage one another in adversity, overcome adversity in the Power of the Cross, smile in the glow of the Resurrection. In hunger and thirst, share your food and drink, your bread and wine, whether in plenty or in need; to feed the multitude you only need five loaves and two fish or a widow’s mite. Laugh with one another in hope and live with one another in peace. Do not let your light be hidden under your bed. Instead, recall, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
May the light shine forever!