The eyes are like a lamp for the body. If your eyes are sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyes are no good, your body will be in darkness. So if the light in you is darkness, how terribly dark it will be!
[With these words Jesus continues to teach about the Law of Moses as the Sermon on the Mount continues. He takes some of the most important topics and explains to his disciples, in specific terms, what it means to be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires” (See Day 23)].
What the heck am I going to do with this? I’m not a huge poetry fan, especially when it’s full of allegory. Especially in the Bible because allegory leaves so much room for misinterpretation and abuse. I want to get this right if at all possible.
So I’m trying to get this going as a mental image. Of course, I get the “light” and “darkness” – that’s all over the Bible. The problems are the “eyes” and the “body”. I finally give up; for the first time I go to the Internet to see what other people have to say. What I find is a bunch of people who interpret it like this: There are a lot of Christians running around who think they are going to heaven, but they have received false teaching so they are really going to hell.
I do not think that this interpretation fits within the greater context of the Sermon on the Mount. Also, it just doesn’t make sense to me. So, I keep looking and finally find a Jewish interpretation. Yes, a Jew interpreting the words of Jesus. Jesus was, after all, a Jew. So when someone on Yahoo asked what this meant, a Jew felt compelled to help the person out. Here’s what he said:
“I’ll explain this using Jewish metaphors. Now, here is a clue. The metaphor for the Torah is light. However, that’s a particular case. In general, it’s the concepts in your mind that motivate one to behave the way they do. The eye is generally used to signify wisdom. When it’s the Torah, it’s G-d’s wisdom. When it’s our own desires, it’s called “man’s wisdom.” The verses before give the choice between choosing worldly treasures or choosing supernal treasures.
So, let’s paraphrase it allegorically. If the desire that motivates you is worldly pleasures, then your body will be full of things which result from focusing on worldly pleasures. If you take it in context from earlier in the passage where people pretend to be good in order to get approval from others when in reality they are just acting. In any lesson, I try to bring it to a personal level. There are events in my life that sometimes grab my attention that are really unimportant. They occupy my mind for awhile until I displace them with Torah lessons which are more important.
Aha. I get it. Sometimes it takes a Jew to understand a Jew. Jesus and Gershon have a certain way of looking at things. So Jesus is saying that the way we live is shaped by our perception of the world around us. Here’s the code:
Light = truth and hope / Darkness = deception and despair
Eyes = mind and discernment / Body = actions
So here’s an example that relates to humanity in general:
The eyes interpret what’s going on in the world. For example, in the midst of a disaster some people fixate on the body parts lying around while others fixate on the helpers.
If, as in the latter case, you see the world as God’s good creation, your mind will be full of God’s truth and good works will flow out of you.
If, as in the former case, you perceive the world as a dark and ugly place, your actions will be selfish and self-destructive. And the more the bad behavior persists, the darker the world will seem as those around you react to you.
And here’s another practical application relative to the interpretation of the Law of Moses and teaching of the prophets:
If you believe that God loves us and is leading us toward the establishment of a just, compassionate, and peaceful society, then all scripture breathes life into us. Your actions will be loving and helpful.
If you believe that God is angry, petty, and hates humanity, then you interpret all scripture as condemning and hateful. Every scripture becomes a weapon that God uses against humanity and eventually you really believe that everyone is going to hell. Your actions will be anti-social and hateful. And your perceptions will become even more negative over time as people react to your hatefulness.
My single sentence summary: You see what you look for and you perpetuate what you see.
I think many people have been subjected to really bad religious teaching that makes them afraid of the Bible. They have been listening to too many people who pore over the Bible for evidence that according to Jesus, they themselves and their little group of like-minded friends are the only ones who will be “saved.” There are plenty of them out there. So sad. Poor Jesus. Talk about being used and misunderstood! Any individual or group that thinks that most of the world is going to hell needs to “see” better.
Historically the church has taught its charges to look at the world through the lens of “original sin” (the concept that we are all born evil because of what happened in the Garden of Eden). If you accept this you going to have a very negative view of humanity. This is not a biblical concept; it’s an abusive paradigm that Augustine came up with around 400 and was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church around 1200 after much bitter debate. (n.b. My husband says to cut Augustine some slack. He says he was old at the time and probably having a bad day when he came up with this). This concept served the church well; man was evil and the only salvation was through the church. Through this doctrine the church established itself firmly as the gatekeeper to heaven. But what was the effect on humanity of a doctrine that painted us all as inherently evil beings? FYI Jesus never said we are inherently evil. He said we are the light of the world. (See Day 16).
I think that if Christianity wants to presume to be our “eyes” then it’s time for a new pair of eschatological glasses. That old monacle the church has been using has seen its day. We can do better.
Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” You know, Gandhi is right. He was a smart man who actually read the Gospel and understood what Jesus was trying to say and do. He was also a good judge of humanity and he saw the lack of correlation between what Jesus said and what most Christians say and do. Jesus deserves better. He deserves to be viewed through a more accurate lens by the Christian community and consequently represented more appropriately by his followers.
Jesus wants us to have a positive view of the world and he wants us to do positive things. He warns us in this scripture about the pitfall of fixating about the world’s problems because the darkness can become an obsession that overtakes us, corrupts us, and clouds our vision. Jesus says we should be optimists, looking at God all the time. We should not be pessimists, always looking for the devil in everything.
I think whatever lens we use should have a positive view of humanity because I know for a fact that God’s love for us has no limits. Any other lens distorts the message of Jesus. Any other lens is definitely cracked and should be relegated to the rubbish heap of history.
What does this scripture say to you?