Years ago, Barry McGuire (if you remember him, you’re a hippy! Or you used to be.) taught about the difference between the sun and the moon.
Some people are like the sun: they are a source of light, of revelation. Others are like the moon: they have no light in themselves, but all they do is reflect the light of others. Be a light, not a reflection. Be a voice, not an echo. (see Matthew 5:14)
Sounds good doesn’t it? And the message is good: have light in yourselves. Sounds good. It reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Have salt in yourselves.” (Mark 9:50) and it reminds me of Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 3:2) and the author if Hebrews (Hebrews 5:12) to learn to feed ourselves on solid food.
Recently, I encountered this photo of the moon. And as I admired the beauty that God hid there, he whispered to me, “Look how much is revealed in the reflected light,” and I understood that I had (yes, again!) over-simplified things.
And (yes, again!) he schooled me: without reflected light, we’d never be able to see. The only thing we see directly is when we look at the sun, or directly stare at a light source (and even most manmade light sources use reflected light heavily). When I look at your face, I don’t see the glow of light coming from your face, I see reflected light, from some irrelevant source, bouncing into my eyes, onto my retinas, and showing me what you look like and, if I know you, who you are.
Really, that’s a whole lot of our goal: to reflect Jesus, isn’t it? So maybe being a competent reflector is not such a bad idea. Specifically, he pointed out to me how much more detail we see here in the reflected light of the moon than we ever would staring directly into the sun: often people see Jesus better reflected off of a real human being than trying to look directly at him.
But beyond that, I still believe that “Be a light yourself!” is a valuable exhortation, but for other reasons: unless someone nearby is a source of light, many people would still be wandering in the dark. If you’re with people who don’t have a whole lot of direct revelation, then it would be awfully easy to wander off the path and they’d never even see the edge of the cliff.
Of course, even better is to hang out with a bunch of people who each have light in themselves, lighting things up for each other, for those around them. That way, the path is very well lit with no shadows, and each of us can see both people and the challenges of our environment clearly.