Much of Jesus’ comments in Matthew 6 have concentrated on internal cultivation of the disciple’s piety. Continuing in v22, Jesus employs a metaphor to further clarify this conditioning, saying “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
The common lamps of Jesus’ day were clay containers with an outlet from which protruded a burning wick. If these lamps contained little or no oil, the flame would sporadically flicker before eventually going out. If the oil was old, contained impurities, or the wick improperly made, the flame might give off a burning odor or possibly smoke up the room. The lamp had to be clean, the oil had to be plentiful and pure, and the wick properly fashioned in order for a proper flame to burn and light up a room. Ultimately the clarity of the room depended on the condition of the lamp and its contents. This is the imagery Jesus is referencing. The metaphor he illustrates is that our eyes are the lamps and our bodies the room.
The message of this metaphor is basically that the condition of our personhood depends on the clarity of our perception. The emphasis Jesus places on specifying how the cleanliness of the eye/lamp affects the condition of the person/room suggests the internal condition and cultivation of a disciple’s piety depends greatly on how they are perceiving or processing everything entering their awareness, whether it’s world culture or kingdom culture. In a sense, it’s like Jesus is saying “How you see shapes what you will be.”
How, then, should we as salt and light disciples see or perceive?
The following are a few patterns I have found helpful.
Think and process with humility, trying to understand and respond to current events or everyday moments in a way that “leaves room” for how God is sovereignly at work in all those vast matters.
Think and process with empathy, utilizing a patience and magnanimity as we attempt to gain a sense of a situation from a perspective besides our own.
Think and process with scrutiny, learning to see beyond the way things seem or are sold by fact checking and examining constructs and conventional thought.
Think and process with a Scriptural mindset, being deeply rooted in God’s textually framed righteousness so your decisions and character yield fruitfulness reflecting Christ’s character.
Think and process prayerfully, allowing constant conversation with God to visualize and cultivate Christlikeness richly into your character.
Think and process decisively, letting everything you have carefully and prayerfully taken into consideration move you to live and act in accordance with the convictions that have developed.
The affairs of this world force us to face an overwhelming barrage of conflict, whether it’s in politics, business, relationships, marketing, or culture. If we are perceiving and reacting to everything around us with the same anxiety, defensiveness, tribalism, and competitiveness the world does, it will only be the same great smoky darkness characterizing the world we are hoping to illumine. We cannot be “light of the world” if we’re only blowing smoke.
Jesus’ illustration thus aids the imagination in reminding those committed to being “light of the world” to pursue and possess a disciplined insightfulness that enlightens the shadows of ambiguity and shines light both inside ourselves and outward toward the world around.