“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14
Friday night, I was driving back from a Mitch McVicker concert in a nearby town. (Really I was going to see his bass player, but that’s another story.) It was after midnight, and as I drove across the flat south Texas coastal plain there were little lights from farmhouses here and there. There were the blinking lights atop some radio towers and the headlights of sparse oncoming traffic.
But as I entered my industrial home county, way off in the distance, to my right I could see the lights of the Dow Chemical plant. To my left I could see the lights of Formosa Plastics. I was miles away from them in the darkness and I could still see the lights and knew that there was work going on it those plants. You might say I could see the evidence of the good works they were doing.
But the light wasn’t there for me. Neither plant had their lights on so I would see what they were doing from Highway 87. They were just going about their regular business. They weren’t trying to impress me.
That’s why Jesus can say here, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and just a little later in the same sermon He says, Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them and when you fast to fast in secret.
Putting your light on a lampstand is not making sure everyone knows you are a Christian. It’s not peppering your speech with evangelical lingo so everyone knows how spiritual you are. It’s not the bumper sticker on your car. It’s not promoting the latest Christian who is a candidate for public office. None of these things are good works.
None of these things are criteria used by Jesus, either in the Sermon on the Mount or anywhere else in the Gospels. That’s why we can be outspoken about our faith and still hide our light under the basket. In fact, depending on our works, the basket may be the outspokenness of our faith.
By calling it a basket, Jesus is, in fact, being rather gentle about it. Several years later, his step-brother James, writing his own letter to the Church, will liken it more to a carcass.
And Jesus isn’t talking about extraordinary things that we need to do. The regular business of our lives should be the light. If you think of Jesus’ teaching as requiring you to make occasional extraordinary effort, then the extraordinary needs to become your ordinary. Your good works will shine, not because you show them off, but because they show off God.
Is your life glorifying your Father in heaven, not by the things you say, but by the things you do?