One reason some of these teachings are difficult is because of the cultural context. We live in a different time and a different culture than the culture of Jesus. This is important to keep in mind as we approach Scripture, because it means that the true lesson may not be obvious. In fact we might have to do a little bit of work in if we are going to understand Jesus’ teaching.
One of these difficult teachings 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)
Jesus taught his followers that they need to be lights (i.e. Matthew 5:14-16), but this teaching is somewhat different. In fact the more you think about it, the more you wonder: What did Jesus mean? William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible wrote about this passage: “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 their context and hope to arrive at the truth Jesus wanted us to understand. Luke 11:14, I believe, provides a good point from which to understand the context of Jesus’ teaching. In that verse people question Jesus: Why does he have the power to cast out demons? Is he the ruler of demons? Is he the messiah? Is he a prophet?
The answer the mob wanted was a miraculous sign. They wanted Jesus to prove who he is, as if all his previous miracles and teachings were not enough. This is a good reminder that when it comes to miracles, what matters to most people, is not happened in the past, but what is going on right now. People tend to have short memories.
In response to the crowd’s demand for a sign Jesus explained what his ability to cast out demons meant. As he taught a woman shouted: “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27, NLT).
I believe Jesus’ response to the woman provides the key to understanding the point of verses 33-36. Jesus responded: “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28, NLT).
Sandwiched between Jesus’ response and the passage we are examining is Jesus’ condemnation of the crowd. It is here that Jesus offered the people a sign. The sign Jesus gave was the sign of Jonah. In Matthew 12:39-40 Jesus explained the meaning of the sign: 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 ministry, but Jesus is gave these people a heads up so they could be on the look out for the sign that will confirm his teaching.
Jesus told the crowd 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 had great wisdom at their doorstep, and yet they did not seek it, in fact, they challenged and questioned the wisdom Jesus taught.
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 in their unbelief.
I think it is interesting that Jesus used these Gentile examples. The Jews thought they would stand in condemnation of the pagans because the Jews had God’s Law and were God’s chosen people, but Jesus said that would not be the case. The important thing wasn’t who had the Law, but how you responded to God’s truth. Will you seek the truth? Will you be changed by it?
Let’s stop here for a moment. As Christians we have God’s Word. God gave us the Bible so we can know who He is and how to live. Here is the point that we need to understand: Having 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 repent. The condemnation Jesus gave to this crowd of people who claimed to follow God’s Law also applies to us who claim to value the Bible, but do not treat it as truth.
With this foundation, I think we are in a better position to understand Jesus’ illustration about light, lamps, and eyes. The power of truth is in it being shared and it being seen. Truth is useless when it is hoarded and hidden. If we truly value truth then we will share it and live it.
The most confusing part of the this passage verses 34 and 35.
How can I have a pure eye? Let’s take a step back and consider the context again and think about the examples of the queen of Sheba and the people of Nineveh.
The queen of Sheba was on a quest to discover truth. The Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not. What they hoped to do was to win the argument. This leads me to ask the question: could a pure eye be the result of the willingness to be taught?
The people of Nineveh repented when they were confronted with God’s truth. The religious leaders had the habit of finding loopholes in the law so they never had to repent. This leads me to wonder: could a pure eye be the result of the willingness to repent when confronted with God’s truth?
In other words, an evil eye is the result of accepting the truth only when the truth agrees with our 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. Therefore, an evil eye is a closed eye that does not allow the light of God’s truth to enter.
This means that a pure eye allows us to receive God’s truth, which in turn leads to a life that faithfully follows Jesus. 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 (Luke 11: 28).
We can debate philosophies and spin facts to suit our needs, but that type of behavior does not shine the light of truth in this world. Only a life lived in response to truth can be a beacon of light to the world.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Is my life being radiant?