Sometimes people find this particular gospel to be a bit perplexing. Jesus is speaking about two different sources of light, that which is within a person and that which comes from without. His saying: “ The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. 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.”
It takes a bit of pondering to get at what the Lord is communicating here. First: “The eye is the lamp of the body.” Jesus is speaking of the the effect that our ability to perceive reality as God sees it, is dependent upon the extent of the ability of our ‘eyes’ to perceive light.” Obviously he is speaking of the ability of our spiritual eyes. Healthy spiritual eyes can see spiritual truths more readily than damaged or undeveloped interior sight. It never ceases to amaze, the way that two people are able to view the same event or situation in opposite lights. Where it is a matter purely of opinion, this may not be a source of conflict. But where basic objective facts are concerned, both points of view cannot be equally correct. To take an example from the gospel ( Mk 3:1-6 ). Jesus saw a man in the synagogue on a Sabbath who had a withered hand. He saw a man who was suffering in need of healing. When in compassion and mercy reached out to heal him, Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath, since healing is a form of work and all work, as was customary, was forbidden on the Sabbath. His accusers, rather than seeing a suffering person who had found relief, saw someone who was breaking the law. Why these two drastically different visions of the same event?
The religious leaders who could only see a law-breaker had nurtured and steeped themselves in the minutiae of religious law, its many commentaries and interpretations. They were dedicated to the law, likely thinking that by following it in every detail, they would be pleasing to God. They had minimized the scriptural teachings of mercy and compassion as being what God most desires. They had missed the over-arching theme of scripture in their focus on the details of the law. They were not seeing correctly because they were not seeing the fundamental nature of God correctly.
The situation on the Southern border of the US shows this same dynamic in play today. Some are insisting that the law must be enforced, and that desperate families seeking asylum from unbearable violence in their home countries must be turned away if they enter in unofficial locations. ( Knowing they will be arrested only proves their desperation.) Even when crossing in official locations they are often turned away. Children are separated from their parents and/ or entire families are jailed for extended lengths of time. Those who enact such policies imply that law is paramount, and the pain and trauma it may cause is secondary. Yet Jesus says that love takes precedence over law where mercy and compassion are needed. Thankfully many people of faith and faith leaders are speaking out against these policies. St Paul’s admonition to obey the civil authorities in the famous Romans 13 passage, applies only in-so-far as law is in accord with the gospel. Where it is not, St Paul encourages resistance as he makes abundantly clear in much of his letter to the Romans and else where. He himself was arrested and executed as a law-breaker.
Secondly, Jesus continues: “ If your eye is sound your whole body will be full of light.” The religious leaders who opposed Jesus were not full of light. Instead of clarifying for the people in their care, the nature of God and what God most desires, they were vessels of darkness. Leading their flock not closer to God and God’s will, but leaving them spiritually impoverished and walking in darkness. “If your eye is not sound your whole body will be in darkness.” Not being able to see clearly themselves, they were poor guides for the people in their care. Shepherds who could not protect their flock from the wolves of error, and who prevented people from receiving the light.
We have all been given God’s light by virtue of having been made in the image and likeness of God. But that light needs to be nurtured and kindled or it is in danger of flickering out. It is fanned and made brighter by correct teaching, and correct example in accord with what the Lord taught in word and deed. If the God-given light within, the gift of the image and likeness of God is not nurtured, then our ability to see reality as God sees it is negatively impacted. So that not only do we not have that natural inner light, but light from outside is hindered from entering. Our spiritual eyes are no longer sound, we cannot see rightly. Hence the Lord says: “If the light within you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” There is no light within or from without. This is profound insight which the Lord is sharing. It explains to a great extent why things are the way they are, why people behave the way they do, why the world around us functions the way it does. Its all matter of how much each person can see. How spiritually mature each one of us is. How high a level of spiritual consciousness we have attained. Because we will act according to how we see. All our decisions and choices will be based on the degree to which we perceive the ‘true light’. And this has enormous consequences for everyone. Spiritual blindness can cause us to see something as good which in reality it may be foreign to God. Spiritual blindness can make us sure that we are right when we are not. Clearly this was the case with Jesus’ opponents.
How then to be sure that we are seeing rightly, that our spiritual eyes are sound? This is a great question, a great problem in human existence. The Lord himself could not persuade many to see aright. How can we help ourselves and others to see? Perhaps we could consider the oft misunderstood virtue of humility as a starting point. True humility is to acknowledge that, compared to all that there is to be known, we know very little. Even with much education and advanced degrees, any one person knows only a small amount of reality. If we can start from a perspective of humility, we give space to the Holy Spirit to further enlighten us, to bring us a deeper understanding. Humility keeps us from immediately shutting down or getting defensive when previously held of views are challenged. Humility keeps us open to growth. The pride of many of the religious leaders of Jesus day caused them to react with anger and fear at the new information Christ was communicating. Pride cannot admit that it does not already know. Pride cannot accept that perhaps one has been mistaken in one’s prior assumptions.
Anyone who aspires to be a disciple of Christ would like to be a vessel of light, both for the sake of one’s own salvation and as a means of God’s salvific love toward others. We are that vessel, that light, as much as we keep our hearts open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our goal then is to see more clearly, that all within us and without may be illumined with the bright light of God’s truth, God’s love. +AMEN