Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
I remember as a young lad being given a wonderful gift by my parents: a telescope on a tripod. I was maybe 12 years old, and for several years I had been fascinated by searching the sky at night to recognize stars and constellations. I knew where to look for the Big Dipper; I could spy out the North Star and Orion; I could whisk with my eyes through the night and find the Milky Way. The stars probably told stories about life, I thought, and I had a childlike sense, like with the Psalmist, that the heavens declared God’s glory and splendor.1 I loved what I saw at night, lying on my back on the grass of our front lawn, peering into the night sky with my hands cupped behind my head. And so the gift of a telescope was so exciting. It was also a huge disappointment.
Some of you may remember your own first experiences looking through a telescope, or with a magnifying lens or binoculars, or into a microscope. Oftentimes you don’t immediately recognize what you are seeing. Everything is enlarged, oftentimes beyond immediate recognition, because you’re now seeing from an entirely new perspective, and with a new power. There is the old adage, “seeing is believing.” That may well become true; but often our eyes have to be trained before we can completely recognize even the familiar. And that is as true about the constellations of the sky, as it is about works of art, about microorganisms viewed through a microscope, about the insight of the heart. I remember that first night with my new telescope, having my great expectations initially dashed when I couldn’t find anything in the sky that I had previously recognized with my naked eye. Ironically, using my new telescope I was actually seeing more but making sense of less until my father taught about this new way of seeing and knowing.
The eye is the aperture through which we have vision. Light enters through the eye, by which we see and know. But that is not the language used in our Gospel lesson appointed for this evening. It’s exactly the opposite: the eye is “the lamp,” not “lens,” but “lamp” of the body.” The ancients regarded the eye as a lamp that projects light outward to the external world, and because of that light, the eye also becomes the vessel through which we can see 2 But the only reason we can see and know is because of the light – God’s prior light – within us. As the psalmist says, “in your light we see light.”3 An unhealthy eye both projects and reflects light poorly. Jesus concludes, “so, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Darkness within us impedes the projecting of light without, and so we are in the dark and we stay in the dark. Light within us illuminates our world, and enlightens the eyes of our heart, giving us understanding, wisdom, and compassion.4 In modern-day vernacular we sometimes talk about a “sixth sense,” a way of knowing, the source of which we cannot exactly explain but also cannot deny. We trust our sixth sense. What we call “sixth sense” was, to the ancients, their “first sense.” Because the eye projects light – God’s light within us – and with that light we come to recognize and know people and things as they really are in God’s eyes.
Jesus speaks about the healthy and unhealthy eye. The Greek word that is translated “unhealthy” eye – what in the King James Version translates as “evil” eye – is ponēros. In both the New Testament and in the Greek version of the Old Testament – the Septuagint – ponēros is translated as miserly, ungenerous, or grudging.5 It implies envy; it may well include hoarding. It’s a kind of spiritual myopia. It’s mistakenly seeing the treasures that inform and surround our lives deserving to be ours, ours to clutch and cling to… rather than seeing the treasures of our life as reflective of God’s generosity, a generosity to which we are invited to participate. Jesus says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”6 We have been created in the image of God, who is generous, and it is of our essence to see the world the same: to live with enormous generosity. And so the Greek word used to describe the “healthy eye” is haplous, which is about generosity and compassion. This same word, haplous, is extolled in the Epistle of James, in St. Paul’s Letters to the Church at Rome and Corinth speaking about God’s generosity, and therefore, ours.7 Jesus here is speaking about eying the world with generosity, giving from our life and labor in Jesus’ own way. This is the vision of God.
Here are three ways to improve the health of your inner eye:
- Don’t wait until you write your last will and testament to determine the disposition of your possessions. Don’t even think of your possessions as your possessions. The psalmist speaks the truth: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.”8 Be thankful for what you’ve been entrusted; retain and use what you need; share everything you can, and then share more; cling to no thing. This is a wonderful way to pray your way through your wardrobe, with your furniture, with the place you call home, with all the things in your life. See all of it as an offering – God’s offering to you – and your offering back to God, to use and to share with the generosity of God. Jesus is saying, there is nothing like generosity for giving you a clear and undistorted view of life and of people.9 Your inner eyesight will improve. Guaranteed.
- Secondly, presume that, with the problem people in your life, you aren’t seeing them quite right. You’re not yet seeing them as God sees them. God does not see them as problems; God sees them as children, God’s own children, just like you. When what you see in another person’s character or countenance is something broken, or repelling, or without light, without form or beauty, see this as an invitation for your prayer. It is helpful to pray what is called “the prayer of the photographic negative.”1 Do you remember, when we took photographs with film, the development process would produce negatives, and from the negatives, the positives – the photographic prints – would be produced. What is the difference between a photographic negative and a positive? Light. The prayer of the photographic negative is to be able to see this other person as the negative. Simply accept the negative, knowing at the same time that the negative contains the image, is the image in a state of waiting to appear. Pray that this person be exposed to the light of Christ, the light of Christ, the light of Christ, soaking in the light, and life, and love of Christ. . . and wait. The negative will take on a positive image and form in the abundant light of Christ. If you pray for a troubled soul in this way – keep praying as long as you need to – there will be change. They may change; you will definitely change. The eyes of your heart will be enlightened. You will see them in a new way, a wonder-filled way. Absolutely.
- And then, thirdly, seek wisdom, which is to see deeply. Some years ago I was invited to an extraordinarily wonderful tea party hosted by my young goddaughter. I had been given a formal invitation, written in crayon, and we sat down to a lovely setting with her best plastic china. (She was eight years old at the time.) I was served a delicious cup of tea (invisible tea) and freshly baked tea cakes (made from her blue Playdough), and which were equally splendid. I was an extraordinarily wonderful tea party, truly, because I had the grace of some perspective. It was clear on what to focus. I could see the kindness of goddaughter’s heart to invite me to sit at table with her, and I could see – even amidst invisible tea and inedible, pretend tea cakes – the generosity of her heart which would only grow, I knew, as the years pass. I could see this. That was a matter of perspective, and in such a setting, you would share the same. So often in the Psalms we read about being lifted up, about being set on a higher place, to be able to see with a fuller perspective. Most often it is quite difficult to see clearly things that are too close. And that applies to people in our lives. Sometimes, I think, what we most need in order to love especially those who are close to us is for the gift of space, of distance, to get some kind of perspective which will actually allow intimacy to be able to happen. Pray for that perspective; practice it. This will improve the health of the eyes of your heart.
We’ve been given life, have been given the light of Christ, not to hoard, not to squander, but to receive, to allow to penetrate the deepest crevices of our own darkness and shadows, and then to reflect this light. This is the light we identify with the countenance of Christ, the light of the world, the enlightenment of our soul.11 Receive the light; teem with that light; mirror that light with all God’s generosity to the whole of creation.
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