The Rearrangement of Parliamentary Deckchairs and the Crisis of the West.

In trying to commend a Christian political option one will often meet accusations like the following:

Why are you so cynical? Why do you have to be so negative?

Over the years, my attempt to respond to such views with civic respect has led me to reply:

Well actually, I am opposed to political cynicism. But we need to discuss the cynicism we can all taste; it is a bitter part of our public life and it seems to be imbedded in all our political debates.

Neither am I wanting to be negative. I am trying to point in an alternative direction, to suggest how a greater measure of public justice might be achieved.

Of course, entering the political fray is not about “winning arguments” and I concede that often my views leave the “other guy” confused. On many occasions greater insight comes from turning my “hard hitting” rhetoric back upon my own views (Luke 6:42). And the literary effort to write Nurturing Justice blogs since 2005 has confirmed me in the view that “politics” is not a career but a dimension of all of our lives  as adult citizens. Those who claim to be seeking a career in “politics” get it wrong. “Politics” is not to be defined by what “politicians” do and achieve. “Politics” is an opportunity to respond to the God-given reality of the call to love one’s neighbour with public justice. That misunderstanding – i.e. that politics is what “they” do – may be at the root of our widespread and embedded political cynicism.

The newly installed super-minister of the newly super-merged Department of Immigration and Border Protection (embracing home affairs) is obviously revelling in his recent elevation. This weekend he has put himself forward as the promoter of bright ideas.  He claims that a postal plebiscite will get the issue of same-sex marriage resolved before the next election. But in our view his approach is evidence of deep cynicism, and a misunderstanding of Parliamentary responsibility.

What does “before the next election” tell us? Is it significant that he doesn’t say “once and for all”? Obviously, conservative defections in Liberal and National ranks are on his mind. Is not this his attempt, as a rising star through the ranks, of keeping the show on the road, the fragmenting party united. The Liberal Party’s electoral problem is that the promised “marriage equality/same-sex marriage” plebiscite hasn’t happened. He has let it be known that he believes same-sex marriage is inevitable. But he stands astride the barbed-wire fence on both sides because he is opposed to same-sex marriage. So then Peter what do you propose to do about electors, across the Commonwealth, who do not believe that a same-sex friendship can be marriage, who believe that such “inevitability” is flying in the face of reality?

Obviously Mr Dutton is not addressing that issue, and he should be. Instead he’s putting himself forward on both sides at the same time. He has been in parliament for how many years? How many times have we heard that simply getting the legislation through will solve the problem? But then what is the problem? Is there no problem with marriage, qua institution, in this polity? Or are we being presented with a fudge, a fudge that resolves the Liberal Party’s ongoing existence, or more precisely of Liberal-National “unity” on the Treasury Benches. For all intents and purposes their major political purpose is no longer what they stand for but rather safeguarding themselves and ensuring that their “side” stays in power as government?

No, this will not get the Liberal Party off the barbed-wire fence. The Liberal Party is already committed to fudging any residual political commitment it may have to marriage, family and household and has been so committed since the fudging was set in concrete, pardon the metaphor, when it gave full rein to the former PM, John Howard, to reneg on his electoral promise to his electors 16 years ago of “no legislation to enable embryonic stem cell research”. Then of course such a fudging was dismissed because it was only a “non-core promise.”

It is not only Peter Dutton MP but also that other former PM on the back-bench, as well as the current PM, who are forgetting that that fudged viewpoint is now set in concrete as an implicit part of the Liberal Party’s evolution, it is basic to its electoral modus operandi.

Mr Dutton’s attempt to show “leadership”  has an echo – “So that we can get this matter off the parliamentary agenda and get on with the rest of our parliamentary responsibilities.” What Mr Dutton and his party colleagues are ignoring is the political character of parliamentary representation itself. What about the parliamentary representation of electors who may reject this “inevitability”? Do they count? They certainly cannot rely upon Mr Dutton to represent them, not least because they do not live in his electorate. But his solution is highly questionable anyway – he wants to get the issue “out of the way”. It is an historical reprise of what the former PM said in his public resistance to the legislative opportunities of the 1992 Mabo judgement that arisen in the 1997 Wik case:

If [those opposing the “10 point plan” in the Senate] want this thing off the agenda of Australian politics, pass it before Christmas and then we can all get on with the future” (The Age 22/11/1997).

This is the Liberal Party’s view. Resolve the uncertainty and then we can all get on with the future.

This is nothing else than maintenance of political nonsense, put forward as sagacious political wisdom. When did, for instance, the needs of Australia’s indigenous population ever “go off the agenda” of public justice? Has not the needs intensified since 1998 after have of the 10-Point plan was legislated? Or, in this case, when will the Liberal and National Coalition, (not forgetting the Labor Party), face up to the fact that it is their respective failures as political parties that has contributed to the crisis in marriage, family (think of the rise in family violence), household. These are supposedly associations that have their standing in our political community because they have the public resources granted them to develop comprehensive and coherent (?) political ideology about the political future of the Commonwealth. These issues of public justice are systematically avoided by the political machines, the public relations firms of “both sides” and they are not going to go away. The way in which we already converse, as a polity, about marriage, about procreation, about sexual relations, will simply be further confused by any legislated mis-representation of marriage based upon an empirical error that says that a same-sex relationship is a marriage – this confusion will continue anyway in this polity whatever our Parliament decides and whatever some or all other “Western polities” may decide. Ironically, we are now back to the issue of our former posts on the “crisis” in the West. (Moreover, this week, will not Twitter accounts be chatting like never before as the Vatican No.3 takes his stand in the dock?)

“So we can all get on with the future” – this is nothing but a mantra of the parliamentary self-interested who no longer know how to formulate a coherent and comprehensive policy for marriage, family and household justice for its “side” of politics. Instead the aim of politics is to stay in power. The problems will be still around and exacerbated because, as the insightful juristic analysis shows, any legislated “marriage equality” is not going to remove the deep legislative and public policy confusion and ambiguity that pertains to marriage and family and household life across our Commonwealth.

If we were to have a plebiscite because the “two sides” are simply incapable of developing coherent policy on marriage – however the votes were cast – might it not be better to ask the preceding question of the voters: Should Australian law henceforth consider marriage merely as a matter of civil rights? This is an issue NJ has raised previously.

As it stands, the efforts to make Parliament into the public advocate of same-sex marriage is already lost (here and elsewhere) by persistent libertarian attempts to redesign reality by the imposition of a “politically-correct” symbolism. Mr Dutton’s suggestion is more a case of a suggestion for yet another round of Liberal Party deck-chair rearrangement.

But as far as deck-chair rearrangement goes the Liberal-Coalition “side” does not have it on their own. Almost on cue, the Labor leader sends a signal that would seemingly remove some of the uncertainty and instability about our political system by suggesting four-year terms. Yes, this is a good idea. And the PM knows it. Good ideas are needed in this context of crisis and uncertainty. BUT will it make any difference to the declining public trust in our system of government? Are the major parties going to set out on a new course and become parties again, and even willing to lose elections out of political conviction? Or will the proposal for 4-year parliamentary terms become yet another “public relations” stunt? Could this good idea dissolve into yet another example of corporate narcissism, as the major parties equate the national interest with their dominance over parliament?

BCW 24/7/17

Christianity’s Decline Amid the Crisis of the West

Eureka Street’s editor Andrew Hamilton, asks: What fuelled the crisis in the West? This is his considered contribution to the significant debate generated by Paul Kelly’s article a fortnight ago in The Australian, “Blessed be the egoistic individuals”. A post from Nurturing Justice also commented on this article. We continue our contribution here to give further elaboration to what Nurturing Justice understands concerning a Christian political option.

Hamilton’s editorial, like the articles of Sheridan and Kelly, is worth reading, as are the comments of readers  immediately after it. But I would suggest that the line of argument ignores the same issues that Kelly’s critique sidestepped although Hamilton does point out, rightfully, that Kelly has not identified the noxious root of neo-liberalism, the ideology of a system of political economy that is bowed in its piety to the sacred fiction of an “unencumbered self”. This is basic to the now ubiquitous distrust of government in the West. Here and now, representative government in parliament is undermined by behind-the-scenes capitulation to the lobbying of interest-groups and political party machinations that imply that political belief is meaningless unless elections are won. Where is the political willingness to lose elections because of political beliefs about what is good in the long-run for the public interest, for the common good? NJ continues to draw attention to how all major political parties have loosened their concern for the authentic representation of voters – party cadres form parties as public relations firms which have to win and be seen to be winning if they are to retain their jobs marketing the “party line”. Now the locus of Government power is the “party room”, the place for secret Liberal (or Labor) business.

All of this determinative political context remains outside the limits of Kelly’s and Hamilton’s analysis. Both articles, along with that of Greg Sheridan, seem to want to hold onto conventional Christian (i.e. Roman Catholic) teaching as they set forth their viewpoints. Here then is my reply to Hamilton:

Thankyou Andrew. Quite apart from Paul Kelly’s Christian-pagan longing to re-establish Aristotle as the Christian philosopher”, he has sidestepped the need for a critical exposé of how the noxious roots of economic liberalism feed the pervasive global distrust of political authority, and this you rightly point out. But Kelly’s”culture of narcissism” argument blatantly sidesteps the “corporate narcissism” generated on two prominent fronts: 1. the mass media and his own newspaper and his newspaper’s owner involvement in feeding rampant individualised celebrity as if Australians should be proud of one who renounced his citizenship in order to extend his American holdings. And 2. The disgraceful “corporate narcissism” among senior office bearers of Christian churches, exposed world-wide in recent times. Your suggestion that the resultant culture of greed “has little to do with religious belief” cannot be sustained since it is all about an idolatry, a mis-directed religious belief, that gives decisive signals of an apostasy, root and branch, of Christian churches. This should in no way be excluded from any authentic Christian political analysis of our current political co-responsibilities within the unfolding crisis of the West. Did not Rerum Novarum intimate a similar critique and Christian democratic challenge?

I suspect that my own rhetorical question: “What has Aristotle got to do with reviving Christian discipleship in the political domain?” as it appeared in the former post will cause some Christians reading this to suspect that Nurturing Justice is taking an irrational stand. Indeed such views are to be expected and here I take the liberty of paraphrasing the scholarly perspective of such an anticipated critic who will allege that Nurturing Justice has signalled support for a narrow-minded irrational dogmatism.

I was somewhat flummoxed to read: ‘What has Aristotle got to do with Christian discipleship and the task of forming a Christian public discussion?’ That sounds as if a Christian political option is not only close-minded but irrational. Can we not learn from Aristotle as to how a reasoned philosophy should be developed? Indeed hasn’t such reasoned philosophy been basic to Christian theology and for this we need to point to no other eminent scholar than Thomas Aquinas as well as 19th century Catholic Social Teaching. And after all, hasn’t Biblical studies confirmed that Platonic and Aristotelian ideas are implicit in the New Testament? Consider how the Stoic “logos” appears in John’s Gospel. So its self-evident that we need a return to Aristotle if there is ever to be a genuine and authentic return to Christian political responsibility.

Nurturing Justice is unabashed in affirming its view that the task of forming a Christian contribution to public discussion should come from Christian citizens who reckon with the inner connection between their citizenship and the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. That being said, there are philosophical and historical issues of profound weight that have to be addressed in any Christian scholarship even if they cannot be resolved here in this blog. Nevertheless, Nurturing Justice is not running away from the need for a comprehensive Christian political science in which such issues are addressed and answered. Here is my brief answer to the above concern.

Paul Kelly makes the connection to Aristotle as if every educated and intelligent reader will already know that Aristotle is the benchmark not only for rational thinking but also for thinking about the virtues of political practice. That, in effect, announces the dogmatic closure of discussion at that point and in my view he is apparently unaware of that closure. Can there be a Biblically-directed justification for the view that Aristotle is the (Christian’s) philosopher? Can this view be anything other than an appeal to a persistent tradition of Christian accommodation with Aristotle, as if that accommodation now should have binding normative authority among Christians?
To follow this assertion an appeal is often made to (what some scholars say is nothing but) a scholarly myth that John in writing his Gospel was drawing on the Stoic logos concept. And hence this reaffirmation of the vital necessity of Hellenic thinking (whether Platonist or Aristotelian) because from there the West has inherited the nostrum that human rationality is autonomous. “Reason” pertains to a self-sufficient reality and with such a scheme any proposed divine creator will have to share any status of non-dependency as a co-creator since it is the self-subsisting faculty of reason, manifest throughout reality, that has enabled the creator to create, giving form to matter. This is the basic dialectical “stuff” of the Greek philosophical tradition and hence antithetical to Biblical teaching.
Kelly and Sheridan in their views of the “crisis” mask a pre-theoretical disposition that seeks such Hellenic accommodation with the Biblical teaching of the imageo Dei. I am not wanting to imply that they be prevented from arguing in this way. I can hardly stop them. No “policeman’s hand” (fundamentalist appeal to a Bible verse) will enhance discussion by making an alternative dogma absolute.
Of course, the philosophy of Aristotle has been formative in the decisive shaping of Christian lives through traditions of such accommodative scholarship – the variations of that accommodation raise ongoing scholarly issues for investigation that philosophers, scientists, historians and sociologists should not avoid. But so has Plato, so has Descartes, Kant, and Husserl. So has Marx. So has Foucault, Rawls and Rorty. But to affirm that any one of these prominent thinkers has pointed the way to fulfilling the first and great commandment (“loving God with your whole heart, soul, MIND and strength”) is not only to suggest an accommodation of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles to Aristotle (or Plato et. al). It means that there is an active assumption that the writings of such non-Christian thinkers should be part of Christian scholarship for the purpose of giving emphasis to how their theories comply with Christian teaching. Biblical teaching therefore is equated with theology, and so theology is proclaimed as the Queen of the Sciences. This notion finds its origin in Aristotle and it has also made its impact upon Protestant thinking and theology (consider Beza and Voetius, let alone more latter-day luminaries). And it doesn’t take long in one’s discussion with Muslims to realise that The Philosopher’s conception of an Unmoved Mover continues to make an impact upon Islamic thought as well.

This discussion cannot stop here. It must be continued.

BCW 20.7.17



Henrietta Dubb’s Diary began with a quote from a review of R H Tawney, a collection of essays entitled, Christianity and the Social Revolution (London. Victor Gollancz & Co 1935). It can be found in The Attack and Other Essays, Spokesman, Nottingham 1981 (Original edition, 1953 George Allen and Unwin Ltd).

“I have excerpted quotes from pages 163-166:

The watershed between creeds which this striking book suggests is not the conventional one. Whatever Christians and Communists may say and do, Christianity and popular communism – though not its official variety – are alike in holding the now unfashionable view that principles really matter. Both have their absolutes. As far as principles are concerned, the division of the future will lie, perhaps, less between different forms of political and economic organisation than between different estimates of the value to be put on the muddled soul of Henry Dubb.

“There follows a footnote to my grandfather:

H.D.: the civilian equivalent of the P.B.I, or poor bloody infantry, ie the common, courageous, good-hearted, patient, proletarian fool, whose epic is contained in the well known lines, “We go to work to earn the cash to buy the bread to get the strength to go to work to earn the cash,” etc, and who is worth, except to his modest self, nine-tenths of the gentilities, notabilities, intellectual, cultural and ethical eminences put together. I seem to remember an occasion on which a telegram addressed to Henry Dubb, Labor Party Conference, was duly delivered at the correct sea-side resort. The statement that, on the chairman inviting the addressee to claim it, four-fifths of the comrades sprang to their feet, is, however an exaggeration.

“Tawney continues:

What the rules of Germany and Italy think of him we know; and I suspect that those of Japan think much the same. The Christian Church professes to regard him as a little lower than the angels, a child of God, and the heir of eternal life. But it has shown hitherto no unquenchable zeal to ensure that, in this vale of tears, he shall be treated as what, on its own doctrine, he is. … In the interminable case of Dubb v Superior Persons and Co whether Christians, Capitalists or Communists, I am an unrepentant Dubbite. So I am in the unfortunate position of being unable to applaud my friends for their vices, which – since their shining virtues will look after themselves – is what friends usually declare. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. Pondering that and other indiscretions of a neglected classic, I find it impossible to believe, with some Christians, that the love of God, whom one has not seen, is compatible with advantages snatched from the brother one sees every day, or that what they describe as spiritual equality, a condition which they neither created nor – happily – can alter, has as its appropriate corollary economic, social and educational inequalities which, given the will, they can abolish out of hand … A Christianity which resigns the economic world to the devil appears to me, in short, not Christianity at all; Capitalism a juggernaut sacrificing human ends to the idolatry of material means; and a Socialism which puts Dubb on a chain and prevents him from teaching manners to his exalted governors, a Socialism – if such it can be called – which has more than half its battles still before it.

“I don’t pretend to understand all Tawney writes about my grand-father. In many ways Henry is still a mystery to me. I remember being told that just before he died – a matter of days after I was born – he said that he had always been in God’s care, and that as much as he longed for Heaven, he also wanted to see Our Heavenly Father’s new earth where righteousness and justice and truth and happiness flower in their fullest. Granpa, had a Christian funeral – his hopes have lain dormant in my consciousness all these years until I recently read Tawney’s comments noting the

… good sense, pertinacity, nerve and resolution of the loveable, pig-headed, exasperating Dubb.

“Tawney concluded his review in these terms. As I have said, I don’t follow all that Tawney writes about him. But I do warm to one thing he says. I put it here to complete the record:

Since I am not a fatalist, and regard confident predictions from past history as mostly sciolism, I have not yet despaired of Henry. I consider it not impossible that he may one day wake up; make an angry noise like a man, instead of bleating like a sheep; and in England, at any rate, in spite of scales weighted against him, use such rights as he possesses, which he is more sensible than some of his intellectual pastors in thinking worth having, to win economic freedom.

“Can I contribute to the economic freedom which Tawney said was within the grasp of Henry, if only he would wake up? I don’t know. Inspired by Henry Dubb’s example, I, his Australian grand-daughter, am going to try. That means accepting my vocation as a Christian citizen of this place. How else? I’m writing this diary to wake myself up and anyone else who is interested enough to read my scribbling may be encouraged to wonder why things have gone wrong and how we can begin to find a new way to exercise the stewardship God entrusts to all who live in this place.”

HD March 2003

Here is the link to Henrietta’s Post, “The frisbee, the sausage and the barbecue” her initial Nurturing Justice contribution to the NDIS rollout.

Christian Identity: Salt and Light

The Sermon on the Mount is regularly cited, as it should be, when discussion gets around to explaining the distinctiveness of the Christian “way of life”. And that is all about discipleship, the wholehearted following of Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes are also well-known. What is perhaps not so readily appreciated is the manner in which Matthew has constructed his Gospel and the significance of chapters 5 to 7 in his entire narrative. The Beatitudes, at the beginning of Matthews account of what is called “the sermon”, seem to be a litany, seemingly composed by Jesus. Could it not have been sung as a communal psalm before the day’s teaching commenced? Moreover, we should note that the first and eighth Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit …” and “Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness…”

confirm that Jesus is teaching “the gospel of the kingdom” (4:17, 23), the work he had taken up in earnest after the arrest of John the Baptist (4:12). Both Beatitudes have the same antiphon:

… for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

So this was a time just after Jesus had decamped from Nazareth to Capernaum. The implication seems to be that Matthew is collecting together Jesus’ teaching that he delivered to these repentant Galilean disciples of John who, en masse (4:23-25), stood in need of his pastoral care, his health-care ministry and teaching. And despite John’s arrest, they went out in their crowds to hear him. Now that is also to be kept in mind as we read and appreciate the Sermon on the Mount and especially the well-known statement by which Jesus defines the identity of those inheriting the Kingdom of God. Before we get to      Matthew 5:13-16, however, we read this conclusion to the Beatitudes:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now this is what comes before Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Read in this way, we hear Jesus prophetically telling his disciples (5:1) that they are to be profoundly glad when they are persecuted for their “Kingdom of Heaven” way of life. Just as the way of life of Israel in the times of the prophets could not bear a whole-hearted obedience to the way of the Lord, so now Jesus tells his those who have come to him for teaching that they are to rejoice when their distinctive life-style brings about a reaction from the powers that be.

This is a statement that is reiterated and deepened later on when Jesus commissions the twelve apostles.

Beware of people; for they will deliver you up to [their] councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before Governors and Kings for my sake to bear testimony before them and the nations… (Matthew 10:17-18).

This Kingdom of Heaven “way of life” came on the scene in a situation which was by no means cut and dried for Jesus’ disciples. In the subsequent chapters of the New Testament we see just how difficult it was. The Romans, with their military control of the Mediterranean world had Israel well and truly in their grip. The religious elite of Israel at the time had so bound up the life of God’s covenanted people that all that was left was a dead orthodoxy confined to maintaining the purity of religious observances and the practises of everyday rituals.

Jesus came to Galilee in a situation in which the Kingdom of Heaven “way of life” was in need of being rediscovered. The prevailing way of life, we might say, was indeed like salt that had lost its savour.

It is in this context that Jesus addresses his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth …

You are the light of the world …

Here he teaches in the context of a way of life that takes for granted a thoroughly divided loyalty. Instead of a life that is committed to balancing these two prevailing authorities – the Roman Governor and the Chief Priests of the Temple – in order to construct a coherent way of life, Jesus begins his teaching of his disciples by defining them in an altogether new and different way.

He tells them of their life in this world, even if they do not derive their identity from the world – in the world but not of the world. He emphasizes how they are salt of the earth. He tells them that they have much to give to the world because they are the light of the world.

This little word “of” makes all the difference here to Jesus’ meaning.

Salt has no effect, has no meaning, it’s properties are not expressed, when it is not in something

Salt has effect, has meaning, it’s properties are expressed, only when it is in something. Yet by being in it is still salt. It does not become what it is in.

This 7 word teaching of Jesus – “You (pl) are the salt of the earth” packs a punch. It requires us to reflect. The followers of the Kingdom of Heaven “way” have no effect, have no meaning, their character remains unexpressed if it is not in relation to the world, in relation to the whole of created reality. What we are has to come to expression in all of our life.

The point about salt, says Jesus, is its taste – if it has lost its taste – you need to taste salt to know that it is salt – then we know full well that is no longer good for anything. You can add it to your soup but if the salt has become tasteless your soup will not be salted.

And similarly, light by shining upon objects is not generated from the objects but comes to expression as the objects are seen.

Once again the “expression” of light, as with the “expression” of salt, is unbreakably related to the way these are created. The shining cannot be severed from the lamp in the same way that saltiness cannot be.tasted without salt.

We might as well say that salt, if it has lost its taste is no longer salt. It isn’t good for anything. It can only be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. It is useless, thrown out, discarded, treated with contempt, trampled upon with indignity.

And Jesus says to his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth.

In the way salt expresses itself in its saltiness – one needs to be able to taste it. Salt makes whatever it is in salty. Whatever it is in has to be tasted. This then is the situation, as Jesus describes it, for his disciples.

Remember the context of Matthew’s poetic report here:

You, the salt of the earth, are now in a situation where, because you have been prepared by John and now I am teaching you, you can give expression to your membership in my Body, your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven; you can give expression to the comfort you have received by giving comfort; you can give expression to what you have inherited of the earth by sharing it around; you can show justice by ensuring that all your neighbours have access to the love that God has shown to you by treating them with righteousness. You are in the world, in a particular relationship to the world that I have set up for you. And since you gain your identity from being the salt of the earth you will simply have to live with the possibility that people can gain a taste for the Kingdom of Heaven “way of life”.

So if “salt” is how the disciples of Jesus should reckon with their relationship to the world, from where do they exercise their influence? And further, what is the extent of their influence?

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Again Jesus uses the word “You” in the plural sense, meaning “all of you together”. This is not an address to individuals, but to a gathering of disciples who are assumed to be related to each other, assumed to be members one of another. The “You” is plural, and there are three domains in which this light shines – the world; a city; a house.

The whole of created reality, the entire cosmos, is to receive the light of Jesus’ disciples. Here Jesus speaks of the exalted place that is assigned to the followers of  Jesus. He says they are the world’s light. This is a stupendous announcement.

He also says that his disciples are “a city”, strategically placed so that it is impossible for it to be concealed. The followers of Jesus simply cannot go unnoticed because they have been placed strategically by the one who has planned that city. It is God’s city that Jesus is talking about here; this is the Kingdom of Heaven.

And it is just not done to light a lamp and then conceal it under a table. It is a lamp. It’s task is to shine, not in some restricted sense, not in some special corner that hogs the light to itself, but it shines for the whole house, to all that are in the house.

Summing up, therefore, we could say that Jesus teaching sets forth his expectations about the identity of his disciples, those following his teaching, those committed to loyal service as citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The life Jesus’ followers are to live is not some mystery cult; this is no secret code, hived off in privatised isolation. It is to be open; it is to be public; it is to embrace the whole of life. It is to be lived to the whole earth, the entire cosmos.

This life is to be lived before people, in their sight, right in their view, up close, so close that they can taste it. It is to be positively acted out in full view.

And so we recall that the followers of Jesus were indeed dragged before Governors, Councils and Kings to account for their way of life. They were not subject to some vague metaphysical principle or entity. They were not selling some abstract philosophical system. They were not the purveyors of a legalistic doctrine nor did they try to make one part of created reality throw light upon the rest. They took Jesus at his word and knew that he had told them they were the light of the world, and had thus commanded them to let their light shine even upon Emperors, Military Rulers and religious officials.

By listening to Jesus’ word they know that Jesus foresaw the problems others would have in coming to terms with those following him; they would know who they are by heeding his teaching. They did not have to create themselves; they had been placed strategically, in the open. So they are called to a life of open thankfulness. Their heavenly Father is busy with them and therefore their service cannot be kept secret.

Like a lamp, your light must shine bright in the faces of people so that they may see and recognize the good things you are doing and then they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.


May 1972 (rewrite 3 July 2017)