“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” Luke 11.33-36.
At first reading, this morning’s passage (a saying of Jesus) is difficult to understand; particularly because there seems to be no real connection between the first and the second part of it — other than the fact that each part is about a lamp. Has Luke just lumped them together because of that — in the same way that one might put two books together on the shelf just because they both have yellow dust jackets? No, Luke is writing in the power of the Spirit, so (whatever some commentators might say) there is nothing haphazard about the conjunction of these seemingly unconnected thoughts. In fact, there is a very real and vital connection between the two parts of this saying of Jesus which begins to become clear as soon as we realise that the lamp in the first part of the saying is none other than Jesus himself. “I am the light of the world,” he said on another occasion (John 8.12) and that is what he is effectively asserting here.
This whole teaching on light follows an incident in which Jesus is described as casting a demon out of a man who was mute but could then speak again. Most of the people standing by marvel at the miracle “but some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11.15-16). To Jesus, both reactions are signs of great darkness in the hearts of those observers.
There is, for a start, nothing devilish about Jesus. He shines with the light of God himself. God has not hidden him like an oil lamp placed in a secret place (krypte just means “somewhere hidden” and “cellar” is not a good translation as ordinary one-roomed houses in Palestine didn’t have cellars) or under a measuring bowl (modios is a grain measure not a basket). He is not some obscure, reclusive hermit living in the caves out in the wilderness near the Dead Sea where no-one can get to him or observe him. He is here, at the heart of everything that’s going on, day-in day-out, shining with the goodness and glory and grace of God, so that everyone who draws near him (“enters”) may see the light.
But what if they don’t? What does that mean …?
It means there is something wrong with their spiritual eyes. Eyes may be thought of as the lamps of the body. Close your eyes and all you can see inside your head is darkness; open them again and suddenly the light goes on! Everything is illuminated and inside your head you can see everything that’s in front of you. If that doesn’t happen — if all you can ever see inside your head is darkness, even with your eyes open, there’s something very wrong with your physical eyes. “And so it is,” Jesus is saying, “with your spiritual eyes. If your spiritual eyes were healthy, you would see me as the Light that I am and you yourselves would be flooded with inner light. As it is, by seeing me as darkness, or by wanting some further evidence as to who I am, you are betraying the fact that you are spiritually blind.”
Yet these people, the Pharisees in particular, are the very people who claim to have the best eyesight of all! So … “Take care,” says Jesus, “lest the light in you be darkness.” In other words, “Be very sure that you are not deluding yourselves by thinking you have real spiritual insight when you have no such thing.” But how do I do that. “It is really very simple,” says Jesus. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8.12).
If I follow Jesus — walking with him through this day, loving him, trusting him, and listening to him — then I can be completely assured that the light I have within me is indeed the true light … the light that gives me life.
Light of the World,
you stepped down into darkness,
opened my eyes, let me see
beauty that made this heart adore You,
hope of a life spent with You.
So here I am to worship,
here I am to bow down,
here I am to say that You’re my God;
and You’re altogether lovely,
altogether wonderful to me.