Matthew 5:14-16, CSB
14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 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.”
Trying to work this parable out demands careful attention to what has proceeded it. Jesus declares the deep and radical principles of God’s kingdom. They come right at us through the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:3-11). These define this story–you cannot shine unless the “light” is inside. We would be acting foolishly unless our message wasn’t based on the reality of an illuminating light. It truly does penetrate the darkness.
Jesus declares the obvious. Look up at a city, it’s situated on the relative safety of a hill. And actually, the Greek uses the word for a “mountain” (which is translated that way 47x). Essentially, it’s in a place where it’s very obvious. “Look up! You’ll see it.” It can’t be camouflaged. You can’t hide it.
Jesus then shifts to another analogy, he understands that it’s vital that his disciples grasp this. You light up a lamp because the house is really dark. The father or mother puts that lamp in such a place that’s optimum for illumination. It would be pretty stupid to hide it. The listeners grasp it immediately. Truth is rarely complicated (thank God.)
Both the elevated city, and the shining lamp become the way the Kingdom is revealed. Simple, I know–but I’m sure that the theologians would find some sort of issue with that.
Good works are the real issue here; but that’s not completely true either.
The clear truth is the glory given to God–by those good works. We don’t shine for the sake of shining, rather we shine that our “Father in heaven” would gain some glory by what we’ve done. And isn’t that, ultimately, the believer’s real purpose? The difference maybe subtle, but it’s good to double-check this out.
Luther once wrote (if I can recall it correctly) that God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. Not sure I completely agree, but it’s a witty and provocative idea.