Christians don’t act like cities on a hill very often. We should change that if we can. To me, as a modern person, the analogy is difficult – maybe we can find a different one that works as well.
The thing is, the expression in Matthew 5:14 is archaic; to a people who live in easy chairs, with secure roofs and cable television, being a “city on a hill” doesn’t really mean much.
A city on a hill, in those days, was a beacon, a symbol of safety from the horrors of the road.
The Good Samaritan is a story in which a man is casually attacked by robbers on the side of a road – and the point wasn’t the attack, but the response to it. People didn’t gasp at the attack – it was the casual attitude of those who passed by after the attack.
Roads were dangerous places. If you were on a road at night, you wanted to find a safe place – and a city on a hill was easily visible, even from the low places. If the city was lit by torches, all the better.
It meant safety.
I was watching #scripture on Undernet this morning, and a person apologized to another – and then proudly proclaimed his apology to the entire channel, and castigated the person to whom he’d apologized for not publicly accepting the apology. It came off as if he expected praise for having done the “adult thing,” which converts the “adult thing” to not even half an actual apology, and makes it a childish thing indeed.
He ended up calling the person to whom he’d apologized a wimp, and another person on the channel a “bimbo.”
This is not being a city on a hill; this is poisonous.
I was thinking that perhaps a lighthouse was a good analogy that might illustrate the same concept.
A lighthouse broadcasts safety, too; it says “there is something here that you should avoid.” You don’t go toward a lighthouse, because the presence of the beacon is a warning; you pay attention to a lighthouse unless you want to destroy or ground your boat, so you’re happy to see one.
The analogy breaks down, though, and badly. A city on a hill broadcasts safety, but definitely wants to draw you nearer to receive the protection; a lighthouse says “stay away,” and we as Christians should welcome people, rather than drive them away.
A city on a hill is honey; a lighthouse is vinegar.
As usual, I’m thrilled by how well Jesus puts things. I pray that we all can put them into action and become as He wants us to be.