“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven Matthew 5:14-16
Reading this passage from the incomparable Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, I was reminded again of the concept about the “city on the hill” which would be a light for others to follow. An example of freedom and right living that could serve as an example to the rest of the world- a new order of freedom which could fulfill these words that Jesus spoke.
John Winthrop in 1630 gave a lecture titled “A Model of Christian Charity” in which he used the phrase “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”. He meant that this new Puritan experiment of coming to America would serve as a model to the rest of the world. He warned that such a model could be for good or bad. The eyes of the world were on them, and they could determine if this experiment would result in a shining light or as a dire warning to others.
Through the years many speakers, politicians and leaders have alluded to that phrase, stating that America is that light on the hill- a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
I hope so.
This statement has also been tied to the concept of America’s civil religion, which is a whole other topic, but I am thinking of it in the context that Jesus gave in Matthew 5. He said that we should “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
There have been some spectacular examples of America being that light on the hill to a weary and broken world. Our involvement in World War I as American strength helped to end the butchery of that war which engulfed Europe and much of the world. Again in World War II where America intervened and helped end brutal, oppressive dictatorships and genocide. The Marshall Plan which helped stave off starvation in a ravaged Europe. Medical intervention in Africa and other areas of the world during the AIDS crisis under George W. Bush in 2003 which saved millions of lives.
These are just a few large examples which come to mind quickly-there are many others. In fact, I encourage my readers to fill in the others that come to mind. It is probably healthy these days to call to mind those many examples of American leadership and generosity.
Every day, American generosity around the world is saving lives. However, Winthrop’s words were a warning too. Not everyone sees America as the shining light of freedom and generosity, because there have been too many examples of injustice and oppression in our own land.
I do believe that America is a wonderful country full of generous, hard-working people, who have been given the gift of unique government by our founders. I trust that we can be, in many ways, that light shining on the hill. However we need to remember the end of the passage- that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Prayer: Father we have been given great gifts in our country, help us to use those gifts wisely and generously for your glory, Amen.