19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
~ Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)
Have you ever read that passage above and wondered what the bit about the eye was doing in between the two parts about material things and greed? I’m not sure I ever really understood it … until I read it last week. And I can take no credit for this insight, LOL–it was in the notes. But oh, how clear it suddenly made it!
In Jewish tradition, the eye is considered the “lamp of the body.” The eyes are how we (normally) behold the world and recognize the situations around us. For most of us, our eyes give us our first impressions of people; we train ourselves to look more closely to notice details, to see beyond that first impression, but still, it’s a key part. It’s why words like vision encompass not only physical sight but also dreams and missions.
But the tradition is even richer than that. Eyes are also how we see our neighbors’ needs–they are how we recognize where to enact compassion. In this passage of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t talking about whether we need eyeglasses or not. No, He’s talking about that kind of sight, how well or poorly we truly see those around us. A common understanding of “bad eyes” and “good eyes” at the time was whether seeing those around you stirred you to compassion and almsgiving. If seeing the needs of others stirs you to do something to help them, then your eye was good. If not, it was bad.
Now suddenly this passage makes sense sandwiched between those two others, right? If you’re so concerned about the earthly treasures you’re trying to save up for yourself that you refuse to help someone in need, your eye is bad. Your eyes, which should be shedding light on your soul and shining it from your soul, is instead filling you up with darkness. You’re only seeing your wants instead of others’ needs. You’re blinded by greed.
And then what Jesus says next really hits home. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
If the very thing that should be light is not, then it’s just a matter of a lack we can shrug off. It’s not just that we’re “not doing a good enough job.” It’s that we’re actually spreading darkness–in ourselves and then from that broken lamp into the world. It’s not just that we’re not doing good–it’s that we’re doing harm.
If we are not serving God by loving others, then we are serving someone else. Mammon was the name of a pagan god of money. So if we’re more concerned with storing up wealth and doing what we want, then we are in fact worshiping this other god. You cannot both love money and love God.
We are called to love God and love others. And we’re called to demonstrate it in our actions, so that we are known by our fruits. This particular demonstration is for many of us, especially in the Western consumer culture, so difficult! Because yes, we need money. We need it to live and support our families and do the things He calls us to do.
So how do we strike that balance?
By never holding our treasures so close that we hesitate to give when our eyes see a need. By not evaluating that need based on what it will cost us, but on whether it will glorify Him to meet it.
Let’s never let anxiety for the future, for what we’ll eat or drink or wear tomorrow, keep us from helping someone today. We’re called to radical trust in God. Trust that He will care for us tomorrow–perhaps through someone else choosing to obediently meet our need. Can we get to the point where that is a joy–to receive help as surely as to give help? Can we walk in both humility and generosity?
Can we do it together? You shine that light for me…and I’ll shine it for you. And together, with our good eyes and our lamps shedding light onto our path, we can make our Way along the road He walked before us. The road that leads straight to the Kingdom of God.