“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” – Matthew 6:23-24
I’ve heard interpreters of this passage confidently proclaim that “Jesus is telling us the eyes are the windows of the soul.”
Gee, thanks. That’s equally cryptic.
What in the world is Jesus talking about and why is it important?
In order to “see” his point, we’ve got to “look back” to the Old Testament.
Jesus is using a common Hebrew idiom to describe a person’s attitude toward others. It is an understanding of “seeing” that is much more profound than physical sight.
In Jewish wisdom literature, having a “good eye” (in Hebrew, ayin tovah) is having the spiritual vision to see and respond to others’ needs. A person with a “good eye” is generous, while a person with a “bad eye” focuses only on himself. Consider these two proverbs,
“A generous person (literally in the Hebrew, “a good eyed person”) will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” – Proverbs 22:9
“A person with a bad eye hastens after wealth and does not realize that lack will come upon him” – Proverbs 28:22
Seeing Things Differently
So, to paraphrase Matthew 6:23-24, Jesus is saying:
“If you have a good and generous attitude, all your actions will shine and give light. But if you are always thinking of yourself, you will not bear or bring light, but instead stumble in darkness.”
Looking ahead to Lent
As we look ahead to Lent, let us ask for the eyes to see the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of those around us, and then to respond to their poverty with lavish generosity and tangible sacrifice. Pope Francis said:
“Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
Looking Up to the God Who Sees All
Lord Jesus, Light of the World, we cry out with the blind beggars, “Lord, I want to see!” (Matthew 20:23). Help us to see you more clearly in our daily circumstances, events and relationships. Help us to see you in the distressing disguise of the poor and become messengers of mercy and heralds of hope.
Lord, when we are tempted to impatience or to think only of ourselves, remind us to walk in the light by growing in our love for you, by loving others, and dying to self. Amen.
This article was first published on The Great Adventure Blog on February 20, 2014.
About Thomas Smith
Thomas Smith is the co-author of Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life, Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.