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02.05.2023 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Light of the World

William Holman Hunt Oxford



Matthew 5 :13-16

13“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’”.

The Light of the World (1851–1854) is an allegorical painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) representing the figure of Jesus, preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door. It illustrates Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me".

According to Hunt: "I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be divine command, and not simply a good subject”.

The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing "the obstinately shut mind".

The painting was considered by many to be the most important and culturally influential rendering of Christ of its time.

In oil on canvas, it was begun around 1849 or 1850 and completed in 1854.



Following Jesus’ teachings in the earlier Verses of Matthew in Chapter 5, the teachings known as “The Beatitudes”, Jesus then went on to use the metaphors of “salt” and “light” to describe his disciples and the impact they were to have upon the world. Salt and light, two contributors to life in the times of Jesus, which were fundamental.

Salt of the earth

In verse 13, by saying “You are the salt of the earth”, Jesus set apart his Disciples - and all those who respond to his call - from other people. Note that Jesus used the simple present form of the verb: You “are” the salt of the earth, not the simple future tense: “You will be”, or “You will become”. By God’s grace and in response to his call, the miracle of our transformation has already begun.

In the time of Jesus, and its way of life, salt had three uses, which Jesus was applying to his Disciples:

  1. A seasoning for food; the right amount of salt has the ability to draw out the full flavour and taste of the food it seasons. While too much can mask the flavour, without any, the food can be tasteless. Just a little salt enhances the flavour greatly. So, when Jesus referred to his Disciples as the seasoning of the earth, He was telling them that although they might be few, their lives, lived in accordance with God’s will, would draw out the good in the world around them.

  2. Use as a preservative: Keeping food from spoiling until it could be consumed. The Old Testament used salt as a metaphor for endurance, signifying the covenant between God and his people[1]. When Jesus told his Disciples “You are the salt of the earth”, He was telling them that their lives, lived in accordance with God’s will, are the seasoning that preserves goodness in society.

  3. A key ingredient for the incense that burned on the altar[2]. In this context, I particularly like Saint Paul’s reference to spreading the aroma of Christ’s knowledge[3] and, as Disciples, the call to us to be part of such fragrance.

We should remember that salt is of little good until it is actually in use, mixed in or sprinkled on, in the right proportions to our food. So, we must not remain just sitting in the salt cellar, rather we must engage with others, those who need Christ, to bring his flavour into their lives. Perhaps this is the only way to preserve our worth as salt, by making the impact we are called to make, ensuring that our salt does not lose its saltiness or become adulterated by influences unworthy of its value, so that it is no longer good for anything.

Jesus was putting a very high value on discipleship. It is probably well known that salt had great value in Biblical times and it is suggested that Roman Soldiers were paid, at least in part, with salt. Whether or not that is factual, the value that salt had at one time is still part of our modern parlance, referring to someone as “worth (or not worth) his salt.” A Roman Soldier’s monthly allowance was called a “salarium” derived from the word “sal”( salt) which referenced the value of salt. Even now, we use almost the same word -salary.

Light of the world

The Greek word for “world” “kosmos”, has two distinct meanings, each significant in Jesus’ message, in its own way. In the New Testament, “kosmos” is used to mean the world that is opposed to God[4]. But “kosmos” is a significant word in another sense. “Kosmos” is geographically the whole world, so Jesus has called on us to light up the whole globe and be disciples of all nations[5]. Not everyone can respond to this call by going into a foreign mission, but come to know that there are many mission fields in our own Community. We can also support foreign missions through prayers and financial support. If we listen carefully to God’s call, we will hear what is asking of us in our response to his call to make disciples of all nations.

Light is a familiar metaphor in Scripture for goodness. Not just in Scripture, but in the language of orators such as Mahatma Gandhi[6] and Martin Luther King[7]. Our light is not our own, however; it is the reflection of Jesus’ light. But, while we must not seek glory for ourselves (how can we, when all we have comes from God?), we are taught that we must not remain invisible nor hide our light. Our City of God[8], must be built on a hill. We must give it prominence, so as to give light to everyone.


In response to God’s call, we must learn how we can be the salt and the light Jesus wants us to be. We must use the attributes of salt, given to us by God, to draw out and preserve goodness in the world. Even if it can be challenging at times, we must always let our light shine brightly -and when that people see the good that we do, we give witness through our own behaviours and attitudes that everything that we do is the will of the God and that it glorifies our Father who is in heaven.


Psalm 34:1-5

I will extol the Lord at all times;

his praise will always be on my lips.

My soul will boast in the Lord;

Let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me;

Let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord and he answered me;

He delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

Lord Jesus,

Your light is the only light I need as I travel through life's mystery. Your word the only voice I hear, that still small voice that leads me to the place where I should be.

Your presence is the only company I need, as I walk this narrow road.

Your fellowship the warmth I crave, to help me on my way. Amen.


  • Does thinking in terms of the salt of the earth and the light of the word help us to understand better our calling to discipleship?

  • Is understanding the value that Jesus puts on his disciples and what he asks of us encouraging, or does it trouble us or make us fearful?

  • How can we help ourselves and others to rise to the challenge of God’s call in his love for the world?

  • Might we each have a special ability to respond to that call, each in our own way?

  • How can we find or recognize what we can do best in responding to God’s call?


[1] Leviticus 2: 13: “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” Numbers 18:19 “Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.” [2] Exodus 30: 34-35: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred’”. [3]2Corinthians 2: 14-16: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere”. [4]John 3: 19: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. [5] Matthew 28: 19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. [6] GANDHI, Mahatma, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that”. [7] LUTHER KING, Martin: “In the midst of darkness, light persists”. [8] SCHUTTE, Dan, ‘City of God’.

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