Forming character through the insights of literature, contemporary culture and Scripture.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! "
by Arthur Paul Patterson
I ONCE SAID that we can always know whether or not we are on the path of discipleship or when we are about to make a drastic misstep. However, I learned from the author of Matthew that I was too quick to speak. I still stand by my conviction but found it's not exactly that simple; my truism definitely needs fine-tuning. I’ll state it again with Matthew’s proviso: We can discern whether we are obedient disciples when we view our lives through the sound eye of God’s revelation accessible to us in Scripture and in the internal word of the Holy Spirit.
We’ll come back to this restatement later, in the meantime I’d like to say a bit about perception.
The need to perceive accurately came home to me in 2009 when I was in the hospital with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a neurological illness. First, the smell of Kleenex made me gag. Never before have I nearly thrown up when I had to blow my nose! My next perceptional distortion had to do with coffee. When I was well enough to drink fluids I anticipated the first sip of my favourite drink - freshly ground coffee - but I could not hold it down. It tasted wretched. So too did cold water; it was as bitter as could be.
The objective smell of Kleenex and the taste of coffee and water had not changed but my perception of them sure did, and in an utterly convincing way. Had I never encountered Kleenex, coffee or water before I would have assumed they were just foul items to be avoided. Because I possess a memory and have dependable friends who told me that Kleenex did not cause gagging, that coffee is the nectar of the gods and that nothing beats ice cold water for a parched palate, I would have to revise my opinions. How could I dogmatically hold on to my perceptual convictions?
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be fully of light..." (Matthew 6:22, 23 ESV).
Morally unsound eyes blind individuals. They cannot see life from God’s point of view. There is a similarity between morally skewed perception and hardness of heart. Both allude to the spiritual, intellectual and emotional intentions of a person. They are both whole person-oriented images. Hardhearted individuals with evil eyes live in darkness morally and spiritually. They are insensitive to God’s will:
"But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear" (Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV).
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not" (Jeremiah 5:21 ESV).
“Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’" (Acts 28:26–27 ESV).
"...as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day'” (Romans 11:8 ESV).
In Matthew’s time, the recalcitrant rejection of Jesus the Messiah by the Scribes and Pharisees are prime examples of an evil eye. Jesus asks these leaders, "Is thine eye evil, because I am good?'” (Matthew 20:15 KJV).
Those who carry the revelation of God and who see by an internal light which streams out through their eyes, illuminating the situation, are called disciples. They are like the people of Israel who were to be Torah witnesses to the nations who lived in darkness. Disciples are those who dwell in God’s light; thus they have the capacity to see as God sees. Paul the Apostle might have picked up Matthew’s metaphor and expanded it when he wrote:
"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV).
“Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints..." (Ephesians 1:18 ESV).
Matthew’s proviso clarifies my view that you can always know if you are on or off the path of discipleship. The Gospel author tells us that we must make a self-examination by asking if we are filled with light or darkness. How good is my spiritual eye? Matthew’s principle of self-critique involves another image from a different part of the Sermon on the Mount. To judge the condition of our spiritual vision, we need to evaluate the results of our actions. If they are spiritually fruitful, they obviously reflect a soundness of spiritual insight.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV).
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:33–34 ESV).
Matthew’s challenge to disciples is to practice a spirituality that exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees. The only way that righteousness can be inculcated is through the purity of a sound eye tested by the fruit of our behaviour. We are to shine the revelation of Christ through our perceptions. In his Gospel of Matthew commentary, Daniel Patté summarizes it well, “Your eye is that through which your vocation is implemented and internalized.”
If we are not spiritually cross-eyed what can we discern? The Sermon on the Mount tells us that we can know what the Father is doing (6:25-34); what is evil or bad in ourselves (7:1-5); to distinguish between holy and unholy (7:6) and what is bad for our children, ourselves and others (7:7-12). That is an exhaustive list but the revelation of God allows us to see with the mind of Christ and thus to see clearly in and through him.