I recently came across a difficult teaching of Jesus which left me wondering what He was trying to say. It is found in Luke 11:33-36:
33 "No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket.* Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.
34 "Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness. 35 Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. 36 If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light." (NLT)
It is easy to skim over this because is sounds a lot like Jesus’ teaching on being light that we have read before (i.e. Matthew 5:14-16), but a closer read will have you shaking your head thinking: What did Jesus mean? William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible on Luke wrote: "The meaning is not easy to grasp..."
Why don’t we attempt to work at this a little bit and see if we can’t come up with an application for our lives? First we cannot lift these 4 verses out of there context and hope to arrive at the truth Jesus wants us to understand. Luke 11:14 I believe gives us a good point from which to understand the context of Jesus’ teaching. What we notice is that people are questioning who Jesus is. He can cast out demons, why? Is he the ruler of demons? Is he the messiah? Is he a prophet? To get an answer to their questions the mob begins to demand a sign. They want Jesus to prove who he is, as if all his miracles and teachings were not enough (if the people who saw Jesus’ miracles tried to come up with alternate explanations for them how much more will people today doubt the evidence of Jesus’ miracles).
In response to the crowds demand for a sign Jesus begins to teach. As he is teaching a woman shouts: “God bless your mother--the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” (verse 27, NLT).
I believe Jesus’ response is the key to understanding the point of verses 33-36. Here is what Jesus said: “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (verse 28, NLT).
Sandwiched between Jesus’ response and the passage we are looking at is Jesus’ condemnation of the crowd. It is here that Jesus offers the people a sign. It is the sign of Jonah. In Matthew 12:39-40 Jesus explains what this sign is: just as Jonah spent time in the belly of a fish and then was spit out, Jesus will spend time dead before being resurrected. The people of Nineveh saw the sign before Jonah’s preaching, but Jesus is giving these people a heads up on what to look for that will confirm his preaching.
Jesus tells the crowds that they will be condemned. They will be condemned by the queen of Sheba who came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom. She was on a quest to discover the truth and she went to great lengths to find it. The crowd around Jesus has great wisdom at their doorstep and yet they don’t seek it, but rather they come to challenge and question Jesus.
The people of Nineveh will condemn them, because Nineveh repented when the heard Jonah preach. These crowds following Jesus did not repent at his preaching. They continued living like they always had done.
I think it is interesting that Jesus uses these Gentile examples. The Jew thought he would stand in condemnation of the pagans because the Jews had God’s law, but Jesus says that is not so. The important thing wasn’t who had the Law, but how you respond to God’s Truth. Will you seek it out? Will you be changed by it?
Let’s stop here for a moment. As Christians we have God’s Word. God has given us the Bible so that we can know who He is and how to live. Have God’s Word isn’t enough! The queen of Sheba will condemn us as well if we are unwilling to search God’s Word for the wisdom we need for life. The people of Nineveh will condemn us if we are unwilling to apply God’s truth to our lives and live according to God’s will. The condemnation Jesus gives to this crowd of people who claimed to follow God’s Law does not apply today for the atheist or pagan who doesn’t claim the truth of God’s Word, but applies to us who claim the Bible to be truth but do not treat it as truth.
Hopefully now we are in a better position to understand the truth in Jesus illustration about light, lamps, and eyes. Truth is meant to be shared and seen. Truth is useless if it is hoarded or hidden. How well are we sharing the light of truth?
Verses 34 and 35 are what are confusing to me. So perhaps the next step to take is to ask a question: how can I have a pure eye? Let’s take a step back and look at the examples of the queen of Sheba and the people of Nineveh again. The queen of Sheba was on a quest to discover truth. The Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not looking to find truth, they we eager to prove their point. So could a pure eye be the result of our willingness to be taught?
The men of Nineveh changed the way the lived when they were confronted with God’s truth. The Pharisees were always looking for loopholes to explain why God’s Law did not apply to them and why they didn’t need to repent. So could a pure eye also be the result of our willingness to repent when confronted with God’s truth?
In other words an evil eye is the result of insistence that truth is only truth if it agrees with preconceived ideas and philosophies. An evil eye is also the result of our unwillingness to do whatever it takes to respond to the truth God has given us. An evil eye is a closed eye that does not allow in the light of God’s truth.
Having a pure eye allows us to receive God’s truth which in turn leads to a life that is full of life. God’s truth is not limited to facts and propositions but is demonstrated by the way we live. Jesus said the person who is blessed is the person who not only hears the truth but also obeys it (verse 28). We debate philosophies and spin facts to suit our needs, but a life lived as the result of truth is a beacon of light. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Is my life being radiant?