January 6, 2010 // Uncategorized

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” What city is Jesus referring to? Anonymous
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus delivers his sermon on the mount traditionally set on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus could look over the lake and see other towns nestled around. Jesus then tells his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. … Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father.”
Jesus is telling the disciples that they should enlighten the world with the light of God’s word, which they preach by word and example.

Obviously an ancient city set on a hill would be noticeable in the daylight and also at night if it were lit up with many candles and oil lamps. We are not sure which particular city, if any, Jesus was referring to, but some people think he may be referring to the city of Tzfat or Safed, since this is Israel’s highest city at 3,000 feet above sea level. Tzfat lies north of the Sea of Galilee and is 20 miles northwest of Tiberias, the main town on the lake. Tzfat is the center of Jewish mysticism and is considered a holy city in Israel, along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hebron. The narrow winding cobblestone streets on the hillside give Tzfat a spiritual quality. Tzfat is built on three slopes and looks down on many villages and tiered hillsides. Tzfat actually means “lookout.”

Tzfat had been a Galilean stronghold in the first century. From this lookout you could view the Sea of Galilee and Mount Tabor, the scene of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Fodor says the Crusaders built a fortress at Tzfat in A.D. 1140 and a thriving Jewish settlement grew up in the shadow of the castle walls. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many rabbis, spiritual leaders, intellectuals and poets came to Tzfat and the town became a center of revived Kabbalah study. Kabbalah is Hebrew for “tradition.” It is a method of interpreting the Old Testament.

At Tzfat you can see many synagogues, an artists’ colony, a park, museums and a cemetery. One interesting holy site is the Cave of Shem and Eber, the son and grandson of Noah. R. Ulliam says this cave is said to be the place where Shem and Eber lived, studied and were buried. Another legend says Jacob spent 14 years here studying before he went to the house of Laban and that here he immersed himself in a ritual purifying bath before he wrestled with the angel.

Why do so many people hate Catholics? MF, Monroeville
Some people have hated Catholics since God the Son came to earth in Christ. King Herod the Great tried to kill the baby Jesus because he thought the infant was a threat to his rule. The Jewish authorities disliked Jesus because he worked miracles on the Sabbath and claimed to be God, so they encouraged his crucifixion. The Jews were upset with the preaching of St. Stephen the deacon, so they stoned him to death and he became the first Christian martyr.

The Roman authorities considered the early Christians worshipping Jesus a threat to the worship of the emperor and so they persecuted the Christians intermittently from A.D. 64-313 and many more Christians shed their blood for Christ. When Mohammed (A.D. 570-632) founded the religion of Islam, it spread rapidly. What was Christian northern Africa, where St. Augustine and St. Cyprian worked, became heavily Moslem. The Persians (Iranians) in A.D. 614 invaded the Holy Land and destroyed many of the Catholic churches, like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. They let the Church of the Nativity alone fortunately, because they saw a painting of the Magi who looked like them.

The Catholic Church then witnessed a split in its ranks in 1054, when some of the Greeks did not recognize the primacy of jurisdiction of the pope because of arguments over the creed and other concerns. Further splitting began in 1517 when the Protestants disagreed with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Protestants and Catholics even engaged in religious wars. Then came the Age of Reason where empirical science reigned supreme and many forsook their belief in God and saw no relevance for religion. In the modern world, Catholics were persecuted and martyred in the Far East countries of China, Japan and Korea. Practically speaking, people may be raised or trained to hate Catholics or any other group.

Father Richard Hire, pastor of St. Martin De Porres, Syracuse, answered this week’s questions.

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