City of God, light of the world


Matthew 5

The New Jerusalem by Kimon Berlin based on a 14th century tapestry

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 1

“A city set on a hill cannot be hid.”  Except that the word is not ‘hill’, but ‘mountain’ – the same as Jesus going up a mountain to deliver this Sermon on the Mount.  The NIV (New International Version) even dares to translate it “town” – but the word is polis, city, as in metropolis.  There are other words for town and village.  For Israel there is only one city on a mountain and that is Jerusalem.  Yes, there are cities high up on the hills over the Sea of Galilee that cast their light for miles – and shining cities like Sepphoris – but these are not the point.  And yes, Mount Zion isn’t a mountain like Mt. Hermon.  But the prophets declare that Mt. Zion will be raised above all other mountains and all nations shall come to its light.  It is the city of the great king (as Jesus will mention in verse 35).  The story of the world culminates with the New Jerusalem radiant with light, arrayed like a bride adorned for her husband.  Revelation 21 will take up Isaiah’s imagery to declare “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light,” adding only “and its lamp is the Lamb.” (21:23)

You are that city.  You, the honored of God, living the reign of God – you the salt that makes the fire of God burn brightly – you are the New Jerusalem to which a hungry world, stumbling in the valley of the shadow of death, will come.  What they will see is not the stunning architecture and shining white walls and gold leaf of Herod’s temple – they will see your good works.  They will see the good that you do, the goodness of God manifest in you.  They will see justice and mercy, the hungry fed, the homeless sheltered, the outcast welcomed.  They will see the compassion of God lived.  They will see justice fought for – our faithfulness to one another in this human community.  They will not see a farm bill that takes from the hungry and gives to the wealthy; they will see fields sold and the money laid at the feet of the apostles that all may be fed.  They will see bread shared, bread that is the first taste of the banquet to come, bread that brings the risen Christ into our midst and the remembrance of all he has said and done.

You are that city.  You are that light for the whole inhabited world.  You are the body of the risen Christ.

And again, Jesus throws down a challenge to the leaders of the earthly Jerusalem.  The temple was to be more than a tourist attraction.  The priests were supposed to be the dispensers of God’s wise Word, the source of knowledge about the way of the Lord.  Instead they have become plunderers, feeding off the people.  These words in the Sermon on the Mount are not pious platitudes of a gentle Jesus; they are fiery words of a spiritual revolution – a transformation of the people into true citizens of the realm of God.