Titus 3:8-15; Matthew 5:14-19
“Often disappointed, but seldom surprised.” That phrase describes how we must respond to most of what passes for Christianity in our culture today. Some corrupt the faith in order to gain power and status according to the standards of kingdoms that are very much of this world. Others hypocritically distort the Gospel in order to condemn the people they love to hate for sins that they themselves commit. People commonly diminish Christ Himself until they view Him as little more than an inspiring religious teacher who embodies the virtues prized by their favorite segment of the larger culture. What such pathetic interpretations of the Christian faith have in common is their inability to help us fulfill the Savior’s teaching: “You are the light of the world.”
As odd as it will sound to many in our culture, Christ does not call us to become successful or powerful by earthly standards, including those of our own society. As the God-Man Who unites divinity and humanity in His own Person, He calls us to shine with holiness such that His glory radiates through us and illumines a world darkened by sin and death. Doing so requires that we do not rest content with being good citizens or moral people, regardless of how those terms are defined. Christ did not come to make religion serve any worldly agenda, no matter how admirable. He did not “come to abolish the law and the prophets…, but to fulfill them” in a way that requires purity of heart.
Remember that in the Sermon on the Mount Christ taught that we must not only refrain from the physical act of murder, but must be healed of the passion of anger, which is at the root of murder. We must not only avoid committing the physical act of adultery or other sexual sins, but must become free from bondage to lust in all its forms. We must not only limit our revenge to “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but must turn the other cheek, blessing our enemies with the same merciful love that we have received from Him. The only way to obey the Savior’s command to be “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” is to become so radiant with the light of holiness that we embody His fulfillment of the human person in the likeness of God. Those who do so will shine so brilliantly that people will “see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” Their distinctive lives will draw others to share in the divine healing they have found.
Today we remember the 630 holy and God-bearing fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in the year 451. They proclaimed that Christ is fully God and fully human: one Person with two natures. They rejected the views of the Monophysites who claimed the Lord has only one nature, a divine one. If that were the case, we could not participate in His divine life, for we would then be cut off from His healing as human persons. Today’s commemoration is not simply a reminder about Church history; it is a proclamation of the Gospel, for Jesus Christ must be both fully God and fully human in order to make us “partakers of the divine nature” who shine with His holy light. He must truly be one of us in order to be our Savior.
Christ is the Light, the eternal Son of God who becomes fully human while remaining fully divine. That is how He makes it possible for us to shine with His holy glory even as we live and breathe upon the earth as flesh and blood. He fulfills all the foreshadowing and preparation of the Law and the Prophets, for God was never primarily concerned with Old Testament rules about outward behavior or the sacrifice of animals. Instead, they pointed the way to the true Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. He has made it possible for us to share in His glorious, brilliant light by grace. The God-Man Jesus Christ is our perfection, our salvation, our theosis. He has conquered sin and death and ascended into heaven in order to make us creatures of the earth participants in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Our task is to open our lives fully to His light in order to become radiant living icons of the divine glory He has shared with us.
Of course, there is no upward limit to the holiness to which Christ calls us. Because He has healed every dimension of our humanity as the God-Man, no aspect of our lives is off limits from the calling to become a beacon that gives light to the world and draws people to glorify God. We must not rest content, then, with a culturally accommodated faith that serves whatever earthly goals we think are worthwhile. We must not attempt to make God in our own image, but instead gain the spiritual clarity to see the darkness in our souls that stands in such sharp contrast with the blinding light of the Savior. We must become transparent before Christ such that His light illumines the world through us.
For that to happen, we must be on guard against everything that blocks His light from our souls. In St. Paul’s letter to St. Titus, he notes that some preferred to spend their time in foolish, unprofitable, and useless arguments which led to nothing but division. The apostle teaches that it is much better to use such wasted time and energy in actually doing good works, meeting the urgent needs of people, and bearing fruit for the Kingdom. In other words, it is better to focus on living the basic Christian life than it is to distract ourselves with what ultimately amounts to nonsense.
There is so much in our world today that can easily keep us from becoming beacons of light. If we become enslaved to anger and condemnation toward those we view as our adversaries in our society’s current debates, we will live as though Christ were not fully divine and fully human, for we will refuse to share in His healing of the human person. It is so tempting to identify the way of Christ with whatever or whomever we admire as a distraction from the repentance necessary to open ourselves to His light in order to acquire purity of heart. To often, we want to use Him to reinforce our preconceived notions and get what we want. Regardless of how moral or justified our goals may be, we are still guilty of the idolatry of trying to use God on our own terms. Those who oppose or disagree with our agendas will then appear to us as wicked people we are justified in hating and condemning. Following that path will bring no light to anyone. Instead, it will bring more darkness by giving the impression that the way of Christ is no different from life as usual in our world of corruption.
Increasing numbers of people in our culture today have no interest in Christianity, probably in large part because so many who identify themselves with Christ do not shine with His light and inspire others to glorify God. We must open our darkened souls to Christ’s healing in order to become shining beacons of His salvation, if we are to have anything worthwhile to contribute to our neighbors. If we are truly in Christ, we must become the light of the world in every dimension of our existence. This is a calling that none of us has fulfilled, but which we must all pursue if we are to participate in the eternal life which the Savior, fully divine and fully human, came to share with all who bear His divine image and likeness. Instead of finding ways to diminish the Savior according to our own preferences, we must enter into the life of the God-Man through repentance by entrusting ourselves to Him as the Light Who alone can make every dimension of the human person radiant with His holy glory. That is the only way to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.”