You Are the Light of the World
There is an ancient story of a cripple whose foot got cut off by the authority for committing a crime. After receiving the punishment, he decided to improve his life by following a sage as a disciple. His name was Cripple Paul. He had a classmate, Noble Saul, who was of noble birth and a high-ranking officer.
One day, the two of them were assigned by their master to run an errand. Noble Saul told Cripple Paul, “Let’s do it his way. When I walk, you stay behind. When you walk, I’ll stay behind.”
In ancient China, people without a foot are generally noticed by people as a convict. Noble Saul didn’t want to travel with him or be seen together with him. He felt embarrassed to be recognized as a classmate of a criminal. That’s why he asked Cripple Paul not to walk together with him.
However, a few minutes later, they arrived at the same place. Saul told Paul again, “Either you or I walk ahead or stay behind. Let’s not walk together.”
Cripple Paul said, “Noble Saul, aren’t we both trying to learn from the same sage to live a more enlightened life? Yet, you still haven’t overcome the shallowness of life. You know, when I first came out of prison, I had a chip on my shoulder. Whenever people looked at my foot, I would have a fight with them. However, when I am with our teacher, I forget about my foot. I feel healed by his grace. Now, I no longer react to people when they look down on me because of my foot.” Saul felt sorry for his vanity and regretted is hypocrisy.
In this story, Cripple Paul said, he was healed by the grace of his teacher, and now the Noble Saul is enlightened by the grace of Cripple Paul. Grace is the secret to transforming lives. It’s not easy to do grace, isn’t it? Jesus implies that if you don’t have grace, you have nothing.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus tried to emphasize this point by giving two analogies. First, he said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt was the currency of trade in ancient times. Salt was valuable to human beings as a daily necessity and a longterm preservative. Based on the context of the Gospel, the saltiness here represents grace.
However, when you have a chip on your shoulder, you lose the saltiness—you lose the grace, and naturally, you no longer matter to the society. A person without grace is not at all valuable to humanity. Jesus said,
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Mat 5:13).
A chip on one’s shoulder can be applied to both Cripple Paul and Nobel Saul because it means a state of reactivity due to either inferiority complex or superiority complex. Our emotion is often disturbed by the chip on our shoulders—either due to the inferiority complex or superiority complex.
Jesus was teaching this right after the Beatitudes—the topic of last week’s sermon—8 Steps to Heaven. When you reach the 7th step, you become a peacemaker. You begin to enlighten people. But when you get to the 8th step, you will be punished for your good deeds because this world is a world of disgrace.
So, how are you going to react to the disgrace of this world if you have a chip on your shoulder? You will react with disgrace. You will return evil with evil. Then you become one of them and lose your grace.
A friend of mine told me this week that his two kids had been asking him why our Speaker of the House tore the State of the Union speech in front of the camera. He and his wife had a hard time explaining that to the kids. We try to teach our kids to behave well so that they may deserve to hold the high offices someday. Now they are confused. How do we teach them grace?
The answer is it starts with you. It starts by getting rid of the chip on your shoulder. Jesus continued by saying,
“You are the light of the world.” You must always remember your identity as the light of the world. The chip doesn’t belong to the shoulder of the light of the world. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The world needs salt and light. Jesus used both salt and light to represent grace because only grace can save this world from disgrace.
You must shine no matter what kind of persecution you encounter or no matter what kind of insult people throw at you. This world of disgrace needs you. So, first and foremost, you must not forget your identity, or you will become one of them.
We may have been one of them, but today we are not. We are like Cripple Paul, touched by the grace of our master Jesus Christ. We no longer have a chip on our shoulder. We will return disgrace with grace and we will shine our light into the darkness.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Mat 5:14-15).
Jesus was talking to his disciples, so he is talking to you and me. Once you become his follower, you have no choice but being a city on the hill. You are visible. There’s no such thing as invisible Christians. Jesus said no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket. It means he didn’t light you and hide you. You become a white elephant in the room.
Jesus put you on the lampstand and let you give light to everyone in the house. He said,
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mat 5:16).
What kind of “good works” can evoke awe and move people to give glory to your Father in Heaven? They are the good works of grace. A good example is the deed of the priest in the story of Les Miserable that evoked Jean Valjean to think about the grace of God and eventually change.
When Paul used the phrase “be fruitful in every good work,” he was talking about the work that bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of grace.
Jesus said that when you do such works, you are shining your light of grace before others and waking them up from the darkness of disgrace.
Grace is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Mat. 5:17-18).
What is the law according to Jesus? It’s the Great Commandment—loving God and love people. How can you love someone unlovable? Grace. How do you love someone who has hurt you? Grace. How do you love someone who insults you and revile you? The secret is grace.
The scene of Jesus on the cross depicts how God has been insulted by humanity throughout history. Jesus’ forgiveness shows how God returned evil with grace. That’s the fulfillment of the law. See, the law requires you to love one another. If God does not show forgiveness, how can He demand that you forgive one another? If God has not shown his irresistible grace, how can He expect you to show grace?
The very last word of Jesus on the cross was, “It’s finished,” the law is fulfilled. God has done His part. Your sin is forgiven by grace. Your offense against God is forgotten by grace. As a receiver of grace, now it’s your turn to pay the grace forward. If you don’t pay it forward, it simply means that you have not received it yet. We must receive grace to enter the kingdom.
How do you know you have received grace? You become gracious. You are like a lamp that has been lit, and you immediately begin to shed light.
Grace is the mark of the highest level of spiritual maturity. You can fake love, but you cannot fake grace. Jesus said,
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:20).
Scribes and Pharisees were very righteous people because they tithe, they fast, they faithfully follow all the rites and rituals. They study the Bible and follow the commandments to the tee. They love God and love people. What’s missing in them is grace. As I said, you can fake love, but you cannot fake grace. Without grace, people don’t see the light in them. Jesus didn’t see the light in them.
You are the light of the world because you are lit by the light of the world—Jesus Christ. In other words, you are the grace of the world because you have been touched by the grace of Jesus Christ.
This world needs you. Just walk out of this room and turn on the TV or browse the news on your cellphone or computer. You’ll see a world of disgrace. This world needs you to be brave and shed your light of grace. In fact, you are called to be the light of the world.
We are all called to be the light of the world. As you go home this week, find an opportunity to shed grace on someone.
May God bless you all. Amen!