When Jesus calls his followers “the light of the world,” he speaks out of a powerful prophetic tradition. The Hebrew prophet of the Babylonian Exile whom we call Second Isaiah articulated that image of Israel’s vocation memorably when he called Servant/Israel “a light for the nations” (Is 42:6; 49:6). Later, in the reading we hear today (First Reading), a later, post-exilic prophet we call Third Isaiah gave a new precision to that image. This prophet draws a precise connection between meeting human needs and both finding light and becoming light. The words are worth quoting in full:
Thus says the Lord:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed. …
Further, to make sure we do not miss his meaning, just a few verses later Isaiah writes:
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
When I first wrote this reflection, we were impeaching our president. Some saw this as a magisterial working out of our constitutional process. Others saw it as an irresponsible and vindictive abuse of legislative, executive, and judicial time, talent, and treasure. Meanwhile, today, the bombing of Syria is treated as a mere sidebar, while the loss of civilian life is dismissed as “collateral damage.”
Someone has described our situation in the following terms. Imagine our nation as a group of five families and our collective earnings as a hundred dollars. The wealthiest of the five takes home $47 and the poorest of the five is left with $3.60. Meanwhile, as family #1 grows richer and family #5 poorer, what the middle family takes home, around $17, has scarcely changed in a quarter century. Is this not a matter deserving of legislative, executive, and judicial attention? One suspects that Isaiah and Jesus would say so. Our Pope and bishops have tried to alert us to this injustice.
If we seek healing and release from malicious speech, and if we hope to find light and even become a light to others, the mandate of Isaiah to attend to human needs still rings loud and clear.