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“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. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
First, it draws an analogy between the physical process of seeing and the spiritual process of valuing. In the first century, the scientific mechanics of sight were not well understood. (For that matter, I live in the twenty-first century and don’t understand them!) So, using the homely metaphor of a lamp, Jesus says that seeing something is like shining a light into your body. If your vision is bad, that light is dim. If you are blind, you are in the dark. Similarly, if you value the right things, your whole being is illuminated by the kingdom and will of God. But if you value the wrong things, then the kingdom and will of God become dim or even dark within you. You can’t see them any longer.
Second, this analogy bears directly on the relative value we place in “treasures on earth” (Matt. 6.19), that is, wealth and material possessions. Valuing such things in the light of God’s kingdom and will allows us to enjoy them and share them with others, without becoming attached to them in a greedy, grasping way. By the same token, however, if we place too high a value on them, we become myopic and tunnel-visioned about them. We render ourselves torn between our allegiance to the Creator and our love of created things, and we find ourselves unable to share those things generously with others.
Third, this analogy bears directly on how we can resist temptation. We live in a highly visual culture, and provocative messages are constantly placed before us on billboards, the TV, and in movies. They concern not only sex, but also wealth and the use of violence to solve conflicts or exact revenge. If we choose to watch such things, we become susceptible to the messages—sometimes sinful—that they convey. So be careful what you watch, what you set your eye upon, what you value.
Of course, given the predominance of visual media in our lives, we cannot but help see things that we would not otherwise choose to see. How do we avoid temptation? By remembering what Martin Luther once said about the birds: “I cannot stop the birds from flying overhead, but I can stop them from building a nest in my hair.” Exactly. If you see a provocative building once, shame on the company that posted it! If you look a second time, shame on you!
And finally, we avoid temptation by remembering Philippians 4.8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”