Inner and Outer Light

DiwaliOilLampCrop

Photo by Arne Hückelheim (click for source)

 

People don’t light a lamp and then put it in a closet or under a basket. Rather, they place the lamp on a lampstand so that those who enter the house can 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 your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness. Therefore, see to it that the light in you isn’t darkness. If your whole body is full of light—with no part darkened—then it will be as full of light as when a lamp shines brightly on you. (Luke 11:33-36 CEB)

  • First, the context: Just before he says this, a woman says “Happy is the mother who gave birth to you and who nursed you.” He replies, “Happy rather are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Remember this — I’m going to come back to it in a moment. 
  • Jesus then talks about how people are often slow to believe and act on the truth. What he is offering, he says, is better than Solomon’s wisdom and more urgent that Jonah’s prophetic mission. Then he makes this statement about lamps and light. 
  • There are actually two sayings here that mirror Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: a) Lighting an oil lamp and b) your eye is the lamp of the body (click the links to see what I wrote about them there). This takes some careful unwinding, because Luke actually uses the oil lamp saying once more in 8:16-19. Again, this illustrates how what Jesus said can be interpreted many different ways—not only by different authors, but even by the same author at different times! 
  • In this context, Jesus is talking about why we have trouble seeing and acting on the truth. Jesus says his teaching is like a lamp set on a lampstand. Everything he’s doing is done publicly, in clear sight of everyone. 
  • One of the competing spiritual worldviews of this time was Gnosticism. In Gnosticism, those who are spiritually enlightened pass secret knowledge to others. Christianity rejected this system and claimed that salvation was available, by grace, to all, not just to “spiritual elites.” 
  • But sometimes people are not able to see the truth because their eyesight is clouded (“unhealthy”). 
  • As in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus here tells us that there are two sources of light: external and internal. But there, in Matthew’s gospel, it was about greed and our perception of money. Here it is about our perception of the truth. 
  • It’s also about Jesus’s identity, as one who brings light to the earth. For people who can’t see clearly, it doesn’t matter how brightly he shines or how publicly he acts; they will remain in darkness. 
  • But the goal is to get the light into you
  • Remember how Jesus corrected the woman who centered on Jesus’s identity? He pointed back to putting his teaching into practice. It is better to do what I teach, Jesus implied, than to be a blood relative of mine. Light that is hidden is no light at all.  
  • I’d go further: It is better to do what Jesus teaches than to call yourself a Christian.

Prayer:
Light of the World, you shine in public, and you shine in me. Help me fill my life and my world with your light.