A New Colossus
Perhaps you do not recognize this sixteen line sonnet from its title, The New Colossus, yet most of us would recognize at least two lines of that sonnet most quoted, namely “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” May I cite here the first eight lines as they are emblazoned at the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. . . People do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket; they set it on a lampstand where it gives light to all in the house.” In those powerful words, Jesus expresses his heart’s deepest desire not only for his listeners of 2,000 years ago but for all of us today. We are the light – a light of reason, a light of welcome, a light of encouragement, a light of hope. And how the world so needs our light.
Yet, there are many reasons why some would want to put that lamp under a bushel basket. Perhaps the one reason that immediately comes to mind is fear – fear of looking foolish, fear of welcoming the wrong people, fear of claiming that we are somehow greater than we really are. How sad it is that fear might diminish us, temper our witness to the truth by cloaking it within the mantle entitled “good manners.” However when we bury our light, we insult the God who so yearns for us to shine.
God created us to be a “new Colossus,” not arrogant in drawing attention to ourselves but humble servants of the light that was entrusted to us in our baptism, the truth of who we are and what God desires this world to become.