“‘22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’”
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is continuing to warn His listeners about the danger of making earthly treasures the object of their devotion, their longing, and ultimately their worship. As we saw in the section preceding this, Jesus is not telling His audience, nor us, to kill that deep longing in us to treasure something that is outside of us, that desire to give ourselves and the best that we have in pursuit of that treasure. But he is directing us to attach that God-given longing to the Object it was created for, the only treasure worth treasuring--God Himself. Nothing, no one else, is worthy of valuing so highly. All other treasures, all other idols, will, in the end, break the hearts of their worshippers. Jesus continues His warning with two more images--a healthy vs. an unhealthy eye, and trying to serve two masters.
Jesus uses the analogy of the eye and the light it lets into your body to highlight the darkness that one lives in when he or she treasures what is not God, what is not eternal. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus says. Many commentators will mention here that in the time of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, people believed that the eye, rather than taking in light from outside, actually shone light on the objects it was looking at. However, this is not really that important in trying to understand Jesus’ point. Jesus is saying that the eye is the gateway to light for the entire body. How well or sound the eye is doesn’t just affect the eye, it affects all of your body and how well you are able to function. And this we can understand, regardless of how the mechanics of light and the eye are understood. To have unhealthy eyes has a profound effect on one’s whole life. Everything is affected--how you get around, your ability to enter into social situations, what you can do to earn your living.
Since this image follows immediately from Jesus’ speaking about what we treasure and set our hearts on, it makes sense to see that an eye being healthy or sound has to do with what we have decided to treasure. We “set our eyes” on what we truly treasure. The person who has a sound eye is the person who treasures to themselves heavenly treasures. He knows who he is and draws his life from his heavenly Father. She longs for all that God is and gives His children: His peace, His righteousness, His justice, His purity, His love and joy. These people recognize the infinite superiority of treasuring God over all earthly treasures. Therefore, since what they treasure is connected with having a sound eye, then to treasure heavenly treasures is to have your whole life full of light.
This means that if we treasure, worship, receive God first into our lives, then this sheds light on, makes us wise about, everything else in our lives. We are able to see more clearly the correct, proper place of earthly life and it various lesser “treasures.” Our relationships, our work, our wealth, the political situation under which we live, all comes to be seen in light of God, His purposes and work, and therefore are seen in their proper place. They are no longer the place where we seek our identity, our life. Only then can we enjoy, receive from, and participate in all those secondary things that we have here on earth in a way that is healthy for the whole body for they then serve to show God’s wonderful purposes. With all of our strings attached to God we can take everything else as we should, we can receive what is proper and possible from others and from our work, and we can give in such a way as to be truly a blessing. We can give and receive with no strings attached.
However, when we treasure to ourselves earthly treasures, then our whole life is dark. When we attach our longings to, cling to, depend upon and give our best to them, we then end up ultimately worshipping our earthly relationships, possessions, causes, etc. But then we are not able to see anything clearly for what they are and really what they can give and the purpose for them. So in the end nothing is in its proper place. We cannot properly enjoy or appreciate even what we do treasure because we are trying to gain our identity and life from it when these things are incapable of giving us what we seek. And, of course, then we are not receiving our true identity or living in real life, because we are not longing for the only One who can give us those things. Instead, our full attentions, our hopes and dreams, are centered elsewhere.
C.S. Lewis, the British Christian author from the last century, wrote about this problem in an essay entitled “First and Second Things.” He noticed that when people elevate something: art, music, certain relationships, wealth, etc, to be the first thing in their lives things that were never meant to be first, they lose both that thing and everything else. “The longer I looked into it the more I came to suspect that I was perceiving a universal law...The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.... It (the law) may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.”
Have you ever noticed that when you count on another person to be the one who gives you your identity or life, when you ask them to be “god” to you, that you cannot then see that person for who they really are and can’t or become unwilling to receive from them what they are actually able to give you? You are projecting on them out of your unrealistic expectations of them. When we “worship” our children, doesn’t this make helping them grow up to be whatever God is calling them to more difficult? We end up trying to live through them. To treasure to yourself the riches of this world can lead you to have a distorted view of your true value and ability as well as render you unable to enjoy the riches for what they can do because you have placed your security in them. As Lewis says, when we worship what is not God, it becomes a demon that we hate, but can’t quite seem to let go of.
God is the One who created us, in and through and for His Son Jesus. To treasure to ourselves heavenly things, all that is and belongs to our triune God, is to be lined up with the grain of reality. With Him as our center, we can enjoy and appreciate our lives here because they are kept in right relation to us, in their “proper” place. In loving God with all that we are and have, we get everything else properly thrown in. We get both the first and second things.
Jesus concludes this teaching with these words, “‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’” You cannot, Jesus is saying have two things vying for first place in your life, as the focus of your eye. Doing this will make you a divided person, unable to be whole in the relationships and activities of your life. In the previous section, we found that we need to put what truly is first. Here Jesus warns against trying to have two “firsts.”
As we have seen, to treasure to oneself is truly to give one’s best to that thing we treasure. To treasure to oneself is to worship. What we treasure to ourselves is, in a very real way, our master. And Jesus is saying here that we cannot have two masters. We cannot set our eyes on two things, have two centers, two “treasures” that we devote ourselves to. Attempting to serve two masters will result in our coming to resent, despise, and resist one or the other--endlessly! Our whole lives will be filled with darkness, not just our eyes! Jesus continues to point out the only source of true blessing, true life, both here and now, and for eternity. He calls us to surrender in trust to the Living God who is present and offering himself to us in Jesus Christ.
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