You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus uses a number of metaphors in the Sermon on the Mount to describe the Kingdom of God and those would follow him into it: salt, light, leaven, a growing plant, a city on a hill. They are not metaphors of power and control, but of the gradual transformation that comes through the power of love. When God’s people are behaving in the way God intended for them to behave, others can’t help but be attracted to God. As Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” Sadly, many Christians don’t seem to put these words into practice very well, and I’m afraid that is the reason many people aren’t interested in, or have abandoned a faith they once held dear.
It is impossible for the Kingdom of God to come by force, and, as history is my witness, I think those who think they can use force to bring it about only drive it further away. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he observed “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subject to violence, and the violent lay claim to it.” The Kingdom of God will come “not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit” The Kingdom of God will come when enough of God’s people start being the people of God, and Jesus seems to think that good deeds are an inseparable part of that. And by “good deeds”, I tend to think of the things Jesus did while he was on earth, not the things some of his later followers have done in his name. I doubt that God was too pleased with Charlemagne’s baptisms at the point of the sword, or the Spanish Inquisition, or the Salem witch trials, or quite a number of other bad things people have done in the name of God. In fact, I’d go so far as to say those who do such things are guilty of violating the third commandment. It’s also interesting to note that Jesus uses the metaphor of leaven in two ways, one positive and one negative. He compares the Kingdom of God to the small amount of yeast that a woman would work into a large amount of dough in order to make bread, but he also warns his followers against “the leaven of the Pharisees”. The defining characteristic of leaven is that it grows and spreads. It can be used to spread light, or to spread darkness.
I agree with Dr. King that the only way to dispel the darkness of hate is with the light of love as demonstrated in positive actions. One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs is “Go Light Your World”, by Chris Rice. In the album liner notes he observes that “You are the light of the world! Don’t hide! Don’t waste your batteries in the broad daylight. Let’s not spend our flames impressing each other, admiring each other, outshining each other .Instead, find some darkness and show someone the way out. Exhaust yourself lighting up dark places. That’s what light is for.” Jesus didn’t tell us to sit around in our comfortable pews and admire each other’s candles, or to argue about whose candle was brighter, or hotter, or more pure, and he certainly didn’t tell us to use our candles offensively and burn people who are not of our tribe. Instead, we are to take our candles out into the world and be a source of light for all to see.