“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.” (v33)
I’d like to start a business. I will call it Christian Candle Keepers. I will sell bushel baskets to Christians who want to protect their light and keep it from the darkness. Any time there is a secular challenge to your faith, just hide under your basket. I’ve even thought of an ad jingle, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, unless it gets too dark.”
What’s that you say? That will never fly, because every Christian knows that Jesus said not to hide our lights under a basket? Ah! I‘ve figured out a way around that. We will put a big yellow “Jesus” sticker on each basket. That way, we can still hide our light, but we will do it in Jesus’ name, and every Christian knows you can get away with just about anything as long as you do it in Jesus’ name.
Of course, I am being facetious. I do not want to sell baskets that Christians can use to hide their lights. But I’ve seen a few programs and products out there that are not too far off.
We have not taken Jesus to heart about putting our lights on a stand. We seem to be doing exactly the opposite: believers everywhere have withdrawn from meaningful dialogue with the world and opted instead to shout blind insults from under baskets. Today’s follower of Jesus is more likely to be of the world, while at the same time hiding from it.
A few weeks ago you were gracious enough to allow me to go home to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where I visited the church where I came to faith, Church Street church of the Nazarene. Here's how it happened: when I was about 13, I was progressing through Boy Scouts when another kid in our troop named Greg became one of my best friends. His dad, Marvin, was our Scoutmaster. Greg eventually invited me to his church, where Marvin also led worship every Sunday, and that’s where I came to know the Lord. Their family took me under their wing as a sort of extra son. It was such a blessing to sit with Marvin and his wife Kathy a few weeks ago, along with all of the other folks there who invested in my life, while my friend Greg led the whole congregation in worship!
But back in 1989, I was surprised to learn that their church had a Christian program that was in some ways very similar to Boy Scouts. I am sure it was a fine program, but I can tell you that I probably never would have joined such a program before I knew Christ. To this day, I wonder if some people in that church were upset with Marvin for involving his kids in a secular program when they had a similar, Christian program under the basket -- oops! I mean, inside the walls of their church. Yet if Marvin had not made that decision to get out from under the bushel and set his light on a stand, I very likely may never have come to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
When we hide behind the walls of church and home, rather than engaging with our culture – even if in the name of Jesus – we are not demonstrating faith but fear. Faith knows that it is nothing for the almighty God to preserve a little candle in the wind. Fear, on the other hand, serves the not-so-mighty god who is perceived as too much of a wimp to protect our kids at school or in the marketplace. Slapping a Jesus decal on an orderly retreat from the world doesn’t make it an act of Christian faith. Let’s stand fast, and burn brightly where the light is needed – out among the lost and hurting of the world where the thunder roars and the Spirit’s lightning still flashes.
The Point: we are to shine in the darkness, not succumb to it.
“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.” (v34-35)
Some English versions use the words “healthy eye”, or “good eye”, but the greek literally means “singular eye”, as in, “whole”, “integral”, or “focused” sight.
It gets even more troubling with the second part. I personally feel that the English translations: “unhealthy eye” or “bad eye” are a serious softening of the more literal translation, “evil eye”. It’s the same word used in the Lord’s prayer, “deliver us from ‘evil’.” Would we replace that with “unhealthy” – as in, “Deliver us from the unhealthy one?”
Regardless of the problems in translation, I think Jesus’ point is clear: We must protect our lenses from corruption. Which I would suggest we can look at in at least two ways.
Gazing Into the Darkness
Certainly part of what Jesus is saying is that we need to be extremely careful about the things we look at. I try to tell my children often: some things can’t be unseen. I fear today, with the arrival of every recorded event – both good and evil – in the palms of our hands, there are far too many things we all wish we could unsee: from violence portrayed in shows and games, to unbridled sex, to the dehumanizing mistreatment of our fellow man on cable talk shows.
We might not be able to control what’s available out there, but we can control what comes across our screens. We must have a “singular eye”. We must train ourselves and our children to master a forgotten but life-preserving skill, turning stupid stuff off.
It’s time we revived the lost art of looking away and walking out of the room. Are any of us able to change the channel or quit the game when we find ourselves drawn to gaze into the hungry, dark abyss the world spreads before our eyes? As long as we keep buying, the darkness will keep swelling. Without the help of God, the darkness available for every eye to see could very easily consume each one of us. For Christ’s sake and our own, let’s redouble our efforts to train ourselves to turn off the darkness when we spot it.
Through A Lens Darkly
But I believe there is a second meaning to what Jesus says here. Not only must we be careful about what we see, but we must also guard the way we see things. Perspective changes everything. Do we see life through the darkened lenses of greed? Lust? Anger? Jealousy? Bitterness? Despair? The wounds we carry cloud our vision like cataracts, causing many of us us to stumble numb through life, never knowing the joy of spiritual clarity.
We all have our own spiritual cataracts, things from our past and present that blur our vision of God, astigmatize truth, and warp our understanding of His perfect love for us. The latin word “cataracta” means waterfall – and like looking through a waterfall, when we are oblivious to the obstacles that darken our eyes, the light bends in unclear and uncertain ways.
Fortunately our heavenly Father has perfected a procedure which can totally remove the side effects of our past hurts and mistakes, and that is the process of regeneration, which commences at rebirth. It begins with the cross where we find forgiveness for our own sins, and then learn to forgive the sins that others have committed against us.
As we progress under the cross, our constant challenge is to keep our vision clear by daily receiving the grace of forgiveness from God, and in turn forgiving others who have trespassed against us and clouded our eyes. As we regain a singular focus on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report,” (Philippians 4.8) we find that is is pure joy to walk in the light of day.
Let fix our eyes on Jesus – and remain focused on Him. Let us cast aside those things that want to cloud our eyes, drive us to bitterness, feed our lust and greed, and erect memorials to old wounds that only stir up anger and depression.
There is a radical surgery freely available in new birth, but as with any surgery, recovery is a process. My daughter was born with very poor eyesight, but because she worked so hard in school, we didn’t know it until the fourth grade. When the doctor finally determined how strong her glasses needed to be, we were shocked to discover that he couldn’t safely give her the full prescription right away. The doctor explained that he would have to give her a set of glasses with half the correction first, and then the full correction later, after her eyes and nervous system had several months to acclimate to the change. This was for her own safety. Her optic nerve and brain would be overwhelmed by a full correction, causing serious side-effects, so he had to correct her vision it gradually. I always think of the blind man in Mark 8.24 whom Jesus healed in two steps when I think of the way the doctor corrected Cambria’s eyesight.
While there is no doubt the Lord can heal any of us in an instant, there are good reasons he may not remove your spiritual cataracts right away. In those times when we may be partway-but-not-there, I hope we might remember this incredible promise: He who has begun a good work in you will indeed be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1.6)
I Can See Clearly Now
“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.” (v 36)
Once you light a lamp, you have to keep it lit, or the darkness returns. Darkness is the default setting of the universe and within each one of us. If we are not diligent to keep the light burning inside, the darkness will surely return. The Point: To stay lit, trim the lamp daily. Keep your lamp filled with the truth of God’s word, the fellowship of the faithful, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Until he comes and the night is consumed by His glory forever, may we remain lit for Him!