“You are the light of the world,” said the Lord, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
You know the rest: “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Jesus said so much, with so few words. Here’s some insightful thinking about this teaching:
Because they have committed themselves to follow Jesus and so to adopt the new values of the kingdom of heaven, [Jesus’ followers] are now going to stand out as different from other people.
This much we are familiar with. But there’s an important detail in the original (Greek) text that doesn’t come through well in the English translations. The word “you” is a plural form of the word you. When Jesus says “you” here, he’s not pointing at any specific person, or even directing everyone listening to him to think about himself or herself individually:
The address is in the second-person plural not only because more than one person is being addressed, but because it is the corporate impact of the disciple community, as an alternative society, which is here in view.
The hilltop town…is a symbol not of a conspicuous individual but of the collective impact of a whole community.
Modern Western individualism is such that we easily think of the light of the world as a variety of a little candles shining, “you in your small corner, and I in mine,” but it is the collective light of a whole community which draws the attention of the watching world.
When Jesus said these words, his main audience was the little group of followers he had collected—those specifically dedicated to being his students. In other words, Jesus said, “You all, this community, this group, this family…all of you, together, as one… this is the light of the world. This family is the city set on a hill.”
Corporate impact. Alternative society. Collective light. Whole community.
So… you can’t be the light. But we can.