Be Careful Lest the Light in You Be Darkness
Pondering a Puzzling Text
No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light. (Luke 11:33-36)
Just before these verses, Jesus says, “Something greater than Solomon is here . . . Something greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:31–32). That is, the wisdom of Jesus exceeds the greatest human wisdom, and the resurrection of Jesus will be greater than most spectacular human rescues and resuscitations.
The question Jesus then addresses is: Do we see this for what it is—magnificent and compelling, so that it becomes the light and joy of our lives? He talks about seeing—and about two lamps.
The first lamp:
Verse 33: No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.
I take this to refer to what Jesus has just said about his wisdom and resurrection: “I have set a lamp in the world: my wise and powerful presence—greater than Solomon and greater than Jonah. I am the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). I am the lamp that must not be hidden or missed.
The second lamp:
Verse 34: “Your eye is the lamp of your body.”
I take this to mean that the way the lamp of Jesus becomes a lamp for you is that you see it for what it really is. Your eye becomes the lamp of your body when you see the lamp of his greatness in the world.
He elaborates: “When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” In other words, if your eye sees me for who I really am, then you are full of light; but if you don’t see me for who I am, then you are full of darkness.
Then Jesus says, “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” In other words, there is much that passes for light through the eye that is not light. There are many bright things in the world that keep us from seeing the true light of Christ—just like city lights keep you from seeing the stars.
“Be careful!” This is the only imperative in the text. Be careful what you see! Be careful what you regard as bright and attractive and compelling. If it is not Christ, you will be filled with darkness—no matter how bright it seems for a season. Candles seem bright until the sun comes out. Then they are useless and put away.
Christ is the glory we were made to see. His light alone will fill us and give the light of life and meaning to every part of our lives. And when that happens, we ourselves will shine and give off the rays of Christ. “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”
Lord, open the eyes of our hearts to see the supreme greatness of your wisdom and power. Make our eyes good. Heal our blindness. Fill us with the all-pervading, all-exposing, all-purifying, all-pleasing light of your presence.
Seeking to see with you,