While most people are drawn to the light of a lamp, there are some who seem to prefer the darkness. It could simply be an attribute of human nature, but I think the power of light and its positive effect on our inner being, or the adverse with darkness, has spiritual overtones. The key component to seeing either, of course, is the eye. And just as the eyes see physical light and darkness, they are also the instruments which introduce both godly and sinful thoughts into our lives. Jesus illustrated it in this way, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great the darkness!” (Mt. 6:22-23). Simply put, what goes into you through your eyes has a direct effect on both your heart and mind. So, as the children’s Sunday School song goes, “Be careful little eyes what you see.”
Several words in Jesus’ admonition drive home this point. While the word “eye” is obviously the bodily organ which causes us to see. What we traditionally think of as a lamp did not exist when Jesus spoke these words. So, what was Jesus talking about? A “luchnos” was a small, portable clay “pot” with a hole on top to pour oil in and a spout out of its side where a wick would come out. They looked like a miniature tea pot without the lid. The wick would be lit and the light produced by it was surprisingly strong. The word “haploose” which gets translated as clear in our English translations concerns the clarity of how we see. It literally means to “see things the way they are”. The adjective “bad” in verse 23 describes a moral condition. It can be used of people (Mt. 5:45; Lk. 6:35, 45; Acts 17:5; 2 Thes. 3:2), evil spirits and malignant demons (Mt. 12:45; Lk. 7:21; 8:2; Acts 19:12, 13, 15, 16), or Satan when combined with the definite article “the” (Mt. 13:19, 38; Eph. 6:16; 1 Jn. 2:13), things such as the eye (Mt. 20:15; Mk. 7:22) and thoughts or words (1 Tim. 6:14; Js. 2:4; Mt. 5:11; Acts 28:21; 3 Jn. 1:10). Jesus also makes a figurative contrast between light (as in knowledge which enlightens the mind- Mt. 6:23; Lk. 11:35) and darkness (as in ignorance or error- Jn. 3:19; Rom. 2:19- or a person’s spiritual state- Mt. 4:16; 8:12; Lk. 1:79; Acts 26:18; 1 Thes. 5:4; 2 Pet. 2:9, 17). Simply put, Jesus is concerned about what fills the lamp. If the eye is filled with light, then the eye is healthy, but if darkness, the eye is in desperate need of attention.
We’ve all experienced times when light and shadows have played tricks on our eyes. A coat, blanket, or clothes thrown over the back of a chair appears to be a monster to a child; bushes shrubs or trees take on human form in the night. Each makes us think it’s something that it’s not. But by shedding light on the situation we are no longer fooled by the illusion. It drives home the point of how important the lighting is. A flashlight with weak batteries for example might not reveal the pile of clothes or the bush, but one of those magnum titanium mega lights “as seen on TV” most certainly would. What then should we be using as a lamp to enlighten our souls?
In one of the most powerful scenes in the New Testament Jesus encounters Satan who attempts to change Jesus’ lamp so to speak (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13). No matter what Satan enticed Jesus with, fame, power or pleasure, Jesus steadfastly refused Satan by quoting God’s Word. Jesus knew that Satan’s promises were optical illusions and the clearest way to see them was through God’s Word. Like a lamp turned on in a dark room, God’s Word dispenses light that shows everything for what it truly is. There was a commercial a while back where a band of crazy Vikings would come crashing into a modern scene and demand, “What’s in your wallet?” Jesus is not concerned with what’s in your wallet. He wants to know “What’s in your lamp?”.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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