Titus 3:8-15; Matthew 5:14-19
“Often disappointed, but seldom surprised.” That old saying describes how we must respond to much of what passes for Christianity in our culture today. Instead of manifesting the deified humanity of the Savior as “the light of the world,” many commit the idolatry of using Him as a mascot for seeking first the kingdoms of this world. In doing so, they make Christ merely an icon of their own desires, often in an effort to condemn others who stand in the way of whatever their personal preferences and worldly agendas may be. Those who do so will never bear faithful witness to the Savior and lead others to glorify God.
Christ does not call us to become successful, popular, or powerful by any earthly standard, whether of the first century or the twenty-first. 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 find liberation from slavery to our self-centered desires for pleasure in any form, including the admiration of our neighbors, regardless of who they are. The Savior did not “come to abolish the law and the prophets…, but to fulfill them” in a way that requires a purity of heart that calls even the highest aspirations of any person or culture into question.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught that we must not rest content with refusing to murder our enemies, but must find healing for 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 that are so widely accepted today, but must be set free from bondage to lust in all its forms. We must not only limit our revenge to the basic justice of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but must go against cultural expectations by turning the other cheek, blessing our enemies with the same merciful love that we have received from Him. To “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” requires that we shine with the light of holiness as we embody His fulfillment of the human person in the likeness of God. That is the kind of personal transformation necessary for people to “see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” We must live distinctive lives that draw others to share in the divine healing that our Lord has made available to all.
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 merely a lesson in 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 restore and fulfill us in the image and likeness of God.
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 participants in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. Our calling 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.
Because of this infinitely high calling, we should never pat ourselves on the back and think that we have scaled the heights of holiness, regardless of how our lives might stack up according to even the most admirable cultural standards. 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 of divine light to the world that draws people to glorify God. We must not allow ourselves to become beacons of a culturally accommodated faith of any kind, for that is simply a way of excusing ourselves from seeking first the Kingdom of God. It is a way of making God in our own image that will block us from gaining the spiritual clarity necessary to see the darkness in our own souls that stands in such sharp contrast with the blinding light of the Savior. We must refuse false answers and distractions that keep us from becoming transparent before Christ such that His light illumines every dimension of our life in this world.
In order to become the light of the world, we must be on guard against everything that threatens to darken our souls. Things have not changed that much since St. Paul wrote to St. Titus and noted that some preferred to waste their time in foolish, unprofitable, and useless arguments which led to nothing but division. The apostle teaches that it is much better to devote our energies to actually doing good works, meeting the urgent needs of people, and bearing fruit for the Kingdom. It is better to focus on the basic practices of the Christian life—such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving– than it is to distract ourselves with the nonsense of serving our passions and the delusions of the world.
There is so much today that passes for Christianity 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 see our neighbors in light of the agendas of this world, not in light of Christ’s healing of the human person. It is so tempting to identify the way of the Lord with whatever or whomever we happen to admire, but that usually serves only as a distraction from the repentance necessary to acquire the purity of heart to which He calls us. Whenever we invoke Christ to reinforce our preconceived notions, regardless of how moral or justified we think our goals may be, we risk becoming guilty of the idolatry of trying to use God to get what we want in this world 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. When that happens, should we be surprised when people have no interest at all in the Christian faith? If Christ provides nothing more than a bit of religious inspiration around the edges of lives undistinguishable from those of mainstream society, then why should people take up their crosses and follow Him? The way of the God-Man is completely different from that.
We must live accordingly if we are to bear faithful witness to Him. 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 pursue each day 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 and domesticate Him according to our own preferences or whatever is popular and easy today, we must enter into the life of the God-Man through repentance by entrusting ourselves to the One Who alone can make every dimension of the human person radiant. 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.”