Complicated arguments and esoteric vocabulary are great ways to hide ignorance. They give the appearance of learning where there is none. Lacking self-confidence, some attempt to overawe their companions with lofty but empty phrasing. Their hearers, bowled over by big words, conclude that fault must lie within themselves. Made to feel foolish, they remain silent, though not the least enlightened. By these means spurious savants ease their self-doubt, but only by heaping insecurity on others.
Saint Paul has no time for “persuasive words of wisdom.” He comes with a profound message but expressed in the simplest terms: “When I came to you...I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Cor 2:1-2). Paul shares this message, not for his own aggrandizement, but to spread the saving faith. He does not want to increase his wealth or ego, but the body of Christ.
It can happen that someone uses the Gospel to line his own pockets. They may even proclaim it well, but their intention is self-serving. Saint Paul was aware of this: “[some] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not from pure motives.” Yet, it didn’t bother him. He saw God’s providence at work even there: “What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed?” (Phil 17-18). Self-serving evangelists “have received their reward” (Matt 6:2), but Christ can still use them to further the kingdom. Still, the true disciple seeks the good of others, even at a cost to himself.
In our Gospel this weekend (Mt 5:13-16), Jesus likens his disciples to salt, a city on a mountain and a lamp. Notice that each of these offers some benefit for others. Salt flavors and preserves. A city set on a mountain is a geographical marker, orienting travelers. A lamp does not shine for its own benefit, but lights the way for others. A similar outward orientation should mark the lives of all disciples. Their “light must shine before others,” but not for their own gain or ego-boost, but that others “may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Isaiah gives us a recipe for bringing light into the world: “if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (Is 58:10). Compare that with the self-promoter. The ‘brilliance’ of an egoist darkens the world. He builds himself by bringing down others. But the good works of the disciple shine on everyone. They point us to God.