A Solitary Light

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”
Matthew 5:13-14

In this week’s lectionary Gospel reading (Matthew 5:13-20), Jesus reminds us that we are salt and light. These are twin gifts of our deepest vocation – to be human. As salt we preserve humanity, especially among the dehumanized until they can occupy their own humanity more fully for themselves. As light we expose dehumanizing darkness by reflecting the glory of God. Isn’t this what Jesus does for us?

The public brief of David’ story is a 36-page litany of abuse and relentless trauma since childhood. There is no question that David is a danger to himself and perhaps sometimes to others, but solitary confinement multiplies his danger and further robs him of his humanity.Mary, a good friend and aspiring lawyer in Denver, has been working on a civil rights case with David. David is a 28-year-old mentally disabled man who is incarcerated at Colorado’s Centennial Correctional Facility, where he has been in solitary confinement since 2009. Mary and her team are challenging penal system’s inhumane treatment of David.

That declaration, which David signed just this past December, describes the mandatory physical restraints that lead him to anxiety-fueled self-harm behaviors, which in turn have kept David relegated to solitary confinement for the past five years.

“It’s hard for me to walk unrestrained already due to back pain, and ‘cuffing up’ forces me to take smaller steps and thus it’s hurting my back due to it’s an unnatural walk to me,” David says in the brief. “I wobble when I walk, i.e. nonlinear steps. This makes me feel like a dangerous animal that has no control, and that will attack anything that dares to glance at me. Which I’m not. I’m not sub human at all.” “It’s hard for me to walk unrestrained already due to back pain, and ‘cuffing up’ forces me to take smaller steps and thus it’s hurting my back due to it’s

Mary and her legal team are a beautiful example of salt and light. They are working to preserve David’s humanity, and also the humanity of individuals who detain him, while shedding light on the system of darkness that overwhelms David and others like him. In doing so, Mary and her colleagues are recovering their own humanity.

We often use the phrase that “the vulnerable are the face and grace of Jesus who return us to ourselves, clothed and in our right mind.” This is the gift of David. In preserving his humanity, he sheds light on our own.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Yes, Jesus is not merely concerned with shedding light, but also with how we shed light. We preserve our humanity and the humanity of others by mirroring the humanity of Jesus. Perhaps this is why the most frequently used title for Jesus in the Gospels is simply “the Son of man” – or more literally, “the human one.” To be fully human is to be salt and light, or as St. Irenaeus said, the glory of God is humanity fully alive. Yes, we reflect God’s glory (light) by being fully and completely human. Thank you David and thank you Mary for showing us the way.