Prepare to have your mind blown

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matt 5:14-16

When I was studying this passage I came across an article that indicates the above statement would have been mind-blowing to his first listeners.

Consider that in Jesus' day it would have taken a whole day's labor to purchase enough fuel for ten minutes of light. It did not change much until the 1850's when a Canadian developed a process to extract oil from coal--we call it kerosine. Then one day's labor would have purchased five hours of light. Then came Thomas Edison who developed not only the incandescent light bulb and one day's labor could produce 20,000 hours of light.

Sometimes, we just cannot grasp the full impact of Jesus words with our modern ears.


  • I think this is true of so much of the NT that we falsely see it with 20th century eyes.

    For example, in John 16, Jesus uses a childbirth analogy. I think the impact of that is lost to us because we are used to childbirth being very safe. Whereas in Jesus' time (and right up to the 20th century really) giving birth meant risking your life. Thankfully, mercifully in much (but tragically not all) of the world we know that maternal death in childbirth is incredibly rare.

    When I preach on any such passage, I try to bring out these vital cultural contexts.

    I am slightly annoyed coz I preached on John 8 ("I am the light of the world") very recently and I finished in Matthew by pointing out this commission from Jesus to be like him and bring light to this dark world. The power of these words in Matthew passed me by completely. If I had known, I would have talked about that...

    There is an incredible richness to scripture which I love. Thank you for another example.

    Jesus' instruction to us to be light is so much more than this 20th century white man noticed.

  • Another aspect to the passage is the "not being hidden". It's not unusual to claim that our churches, in some cases even our nations, are like "cities on a hill". Which means that everything is visible and can't be hidden - especially if we're claiming the light of Christ so the city has no dark corners.

    It may surprise some that by claiming to be a city on a hill we can't then complain when the whole world sees what we do, and points out when that's not acceptable.
  • It's different when whole modern nations claim this shining light, city thing.
  • The city on the hill reference may refer to followers of the Way being a part of the new New Jerusalem--since Jerusalem is actually a city on a hill.
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