“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” - Matthew 5:14-16
This is a beloved passage from The Sermon on the Mount. Keep in mind that he had a wide range of listeners there. Of course, his disciples were present. There were others who were close to Jesus who also followed him, but who were not numbered among the Twelve. We can picture them, eager to hear what he has to say. And there were people of different ages and circumstances in life, who gathered to hear what he had to say.
First: Jesus gives them all a wonderful compliment by calling them the light of the world. Normally, if you were to ask anyone what the light of the world is, they would say what? The sun, probably. The sun provided both light and heat to our planet and everything that is on it. This is a rather spectacular statement Jesus is making, comparing the people gathered there to the sun. God is light. Jesus is light. And, as Jesus says, so are you! Are they the ones who provide light and warmth in the world?
Second: Jesus calls them a city built on a hill. This is an uplifting comment, to be sure. What does a city on a hill do in the landscape? It draws us to it. Remind me to tell you about the one we visited in France. You have possibly been drawn to cities on hills (Rome, San Francisco, etc.). During the Olympics, we were watching Rio, and the many hills there. Cities on hills are almost always of interest. People pay attention. They cannot be hid.
Third: Jesus compares them to a lamp that has been lit. People light lamps when it begins to get dark, when the sun is going down, at night, or when things are very dark and stormy. We have had some days like that recently, where even in the middle of the day, it gets very dark. Putting a bushel basket over a lamp renders it ineffective. It stifles the light. We might want to ponder what things stifle the light that God’s people shine forth.
Jesus encourages them to let their light shine. The message that Jesus offers here is inspirational. It is as if Jesus is saying to them: “What you think of yourself is much more important than what people think of you.” And adding to that, “What I think of you is even more important than that.” The message that Jesus offers is motivational. He wants them to act on the idea: “Be a little more YOU. And a lot less what others have said you are.” Jesus knows who they can be, and is prompting them to live into that reality. In Christ, to do more, to be more, to give more, to serve more, and to love more.
So there they are: Light of the world. City on a hill. Lamp on a lamp stand. It would be good to hear Jesus' words as less of a requirement, and more of a blessing; as less of a command, and more of a commissioning. When we hear Christ’s teachings in this way, they are invitational. Come and be this. Come and live in this way.
Yours in Christ,
John A. Dalles, Pastor