As a very young adult, I was blessed with the opportunity to portray Jesus in a production of the musical Godspell. It is based, to a great extent, on the Gospel of Matthew. So, at the Ash Wednesday service last night at St. Andrew’s in College Park, where my wife and I worship, I found myself listening to words that, in a way, were comforting; they took me back to that time of joy and excitement. At the same time, those verses from Chapter 6, where Jesus tells us to do our good deeds in secret, reminded me of an internal struggle of mine that grew out of that Godspell experience.
One of the songs from Godspell is entitled “Light of the World” (Click the title to hear it on YouTube). It is a paraphrase of Matthew 5:13-15, where Jesus says to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It is a happy, fun song, but in it Jesus seems to be saying the exact opposite of what he says in Chapter 6. So, which is it? Are we supposed to do our good deeds in secret or shine a light on them for all the world to see? As a person who loves being the center of attention and having a light shone on him, I have spent many an hour pondering this question over the years.
As I listened to the rector’s (the Rev. Carol Jablonski) sermon, I was reminded that one way to answer the question is to ponder another question: Whose light is shining? Or, put another way, am I performing this good deed for myself or because I believe that it is what God would have me do? Am I furthering my agenda, or God’s? Perhaps that is why Jesus gives us these seemingly contradictory messages, to keep us on our toes and always contemplating whether or not we are serving God.
Now, I expect that I will continue to debate this apparent dichotomy for the rest of my life; as a student of philosophy, I believe that when we stop pondering, stop asking questions, we stop growing. I also expect to shine the wrong light every now and then. But, I take solace in remembering that I am only human, and missteps are a part of the human package. I take further comfort from the fact that God knows that as well and will love me no more or no less, regardless.