The salt, light, and city imagery should be read in light of or as flowing from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Verses 11–12 are certainly a bridge, making a pivot from the general invitation nature of the Beatitudes to the church directed “you are” subjects in vv. 12-16. Yet, what penetrating flavor? What light is to shine? What kind of City on a Hill? The reference to doing “good works” in verse 16, at a minimum, implies the good and counter-cultural and contra-social/societal flourishing that flow from the Beatitudes. Salt and light that indicate that the poor in spirit (by now should should know this means the actual poor), those who mourn (i.e., those lacking resources), and the meek (i.e., the powerless of the earth) have the kingdom, are comforted, and inherit the earth; light that illumines from a City where the desire for God’s justice is thirsted for and hungered for; where mercy prevails, the unclean are welcomed, and filled with peacemaking sons of God.
The content and polity (if you will) of the City on a Hill (which I do take as church, bytheway) is the Beatitudes. And, if you (we, that is a church) actually lives under this constitution of Beatitudes, remember, “Blessed are those who are persecuted” for persecution will come for these social-upheaving Beatitudes are not naturally welcomed nor accepted by the powers (i.e., the powerful and those in power); and, remember, you are blessed “when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” for power (the powerful and those in power) do not want a City like this.
But “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets [i.e., those who foresaw this City on a Hill, the king of this City, and this time of Beatitude-flourishing] who were before you.” Jesus is the King of this City and it is the good works of the Beatitudes that will glorify our Father who is in heaven.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.