Today we heard our Lord tell us, "let your light shine before men". But elsewhere in the gospel we hear him tell us to pray and give alms in secret. How are we to reconcile these things?
We need to understand that letting our light shine before others is not an invitation to show off or brag. In fact, when we read this injunction in context we will find that being the light of the world is the fruit of true humility.
We Christians are often guilty of using our faith to justify our passions. We want every good deed, every sacrifice, everything we do in Christ's name to be announced, praised and publicised. It is so easy to say "I am doing it for God, I am doing it for the church, I must share my faith, I must be the light of the world." But our real motive is to satisfy our ego. We try to be the light of the world when there is yet barely any light in us, and the result is the world sees in us insincerity and hypocrisy. To be the light of the world is to be a beacon of virtue, and this includes the virtue of humility.
Humility does not mean passiveness, a crippling sense of worthlessness which makes us incapable of taking action. It is the virtue of selflessness, and thus the virtue that makes self denying love possible. As C.S. Lewis put it, "humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less."
We hasten to become preachers and evangelists. Nowadays it seems almost every Christian is an apostle of Facebook and other such things. And we attempt to reach out to the world, to be the light of the world, before we have acquired virtue. And so when our attempts at bearing witness to orthodoxy fail or are met with hostility, we end up preaching anger, hatred, division and despair. Because our real interest is not being filled with the light of Christ, but trying to make others see things our way.
Our Lord said "a lamp is not concealed under a bushel" and "a city set on a hill cannot be hidden". This is not a green light to go around trying to persuade everyone of Orthodoxy; rather it is an assurance that true humility will not go unnoticed.
What better example do we have than the patron saint of this church, St Anthony the Great? Though he abandoned everything to live in solitude in the wilderness, his reputation for holiness spread far and wide. And eventually, after some forty years in the desert, he opened his doors to the world to receive the masses of people who came to him because of his holiness. He is the greatest example of how humility makes us that city on the hill that cannot be hidden, that lamp upon the stand that gives light to all around.
Does this mean we must retreat into the wilderness and become monks and nuns to acquire virtue and become the light of the world? By no means! If we retreat into our hearts and give ourselves to prayer, scripture, patience, charity, and humility, we too can become the light of the world. But this cannot happen if we are not filled with the light of virtue.
Let us therefore practice the Christian virtues in our daily lives, at home, at work, in our dealings with others, without pretence, without ulterior motives, that we may become a light for those in darkness. Amen.