Jesus' Parables for Disciples
51. Good Eyes, Bad Eyes (Luke 11:29-36)
James J. Tissot, 'Jonah', gouache on gray wove paper, The Jewish Museum, New York.
"29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, 'This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
33 'No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.'" (Luke 11:29-36, NIV)
Maybe it's just that I'm getting older. Sometimes I can look and look for something, and then discover that it was right under my nose. I just couldn't see it!
We can be like that spiritually, too. In this lesson, Jesus talks about the blindness of his own generation, and exhorts his disciples to make sure that they are seeing him and his kingdom clearly. But there's a twist that gives me pause. I'll come to that in a few minutes.
"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, 'This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign.'" (11:29a-b)
We say, "Prove it to me!" In Jesus' day they asked for a sign. If you recall, right after Jesus cast out a demon and enabled a mute man to speak, some accused Jesus of being Beelzebub, but "others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven" (11:16). Jesus answered the objection about Beelzebub in 11:17-28. Now he turns to their demand for a sign in 11:29-32.
I would think that healing the blind or exorcising a demon so a man could speak would be pretty impressive signs. Sometimes these kinds of miracles are termed in Acts as "signs and wonders" (Acts 4:30; 5:12; 8:13; 14:3; 15:12; see also Romans 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4). Greek sēmeion can refer to "'a sign' consisting of a 'wonder' or 'miracle,' an event that is contrary to the usual course of nature."461 But Jesus' critics were asking for more. Exorcising the demon from a mute man could be explained in other ways, they thought. They wanted something so remarkable, so outstanding, that there would be no question that it was God. Paul characterized them similarly: "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom..." (1 Corinthians 1:22).
Because they refused to see what was happening before their very eyes, Jesus calls them "a wicked generation." The Greek word is ponēros, which is used later in this passage in 11:34 in connection with "bad" eyes. It can mean in the physical sense, "in poor condition, sick," and carry the ethical sense of "wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, degenerate." Satan is called "the Evil One" using this word.462 The generation was wicked in their unbelief. Here the Son of God is in their midst performing outstanding miracles and teaching spiritual truth, and they "test" him (11:16) by calling upon him to prove himself with a sign. The word translated "test" in 11:16 is Greek pairazō, "try, make a trial of, put to the test," to discover what kind of a person someone is. It can also be used in a bad sense, in order to bring out something to be used against the one who is being "tried."463
Was the entire generation wicked? No, many of them turned to him in faith. But their leaders and the majority of the population either ignored Jesus or actively resisted him. They were indeed a wicked generation.
"... but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation." (11:30)
They called for a sign, but none would be forthcoming that Jesus wasn't already exhibiting in his day-to-day ministry. The "big" sign would be "the sign of Jonah."
If you haven't read the four-chapter book of Jonah in the Bible lately, why don't you take a few minutes this week and read it. It is the story of a prophet who is called by God to preach repentance to Nineveh, the capital city of Israel's arch enemy Assyria. The Assyrians had destroyed and brutalized wherever they had gone during Jonah's era, the eighth century BC. And now God commands Jonah to preach to his enemies. But instead of going east towards Nineveh (in present day Iraq on the Tigris River, about 220 miles northwest of Baghdad), Jonah pays for passage on a boat bound west to Tarshish (modern day Spain), about as far as you can travel away from Nineveh. But God causes a great storm, Jonah admits his guilt and is thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish. He is in the fish's belly for three days and is then vomited up on the shore. God won't take no for an answer. So Jonah goes to Nineveh, still filled with bitterness towards its people. Yet out of obedience he preaches. The result is wholesale repentance and God turns his anger from Nineveh -- much to Jonah's displeasure.
Locations of Tarshish, Sheba, and Nineveh (larger map)
What are the points of comparison between Jesus' ministry and Jonah's? In what way was "the sign of Jonah" given to Jesus' generation? Both men preached and people turned to God in repentance. But preaching probably isn't enough of a "sign" to convince the hard-hearted Jews. The point of comparison seems to be Jonah's three days in the fish's stomach and Jesus' death and burial in the tomb, to be raised to life on the third day. Matthew's Gospel spells out the point of comparison with great clarity:
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)
The sign of Jonah is the sign of the Resurrection.
"The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here." (11:31-32)
The Queen of Sheba, a foreigner from far-off present-day Yemen, visits Solomon and acknowledges his wisdom and his God (1 Kings 10). She is a foreigner but she believes. The residents of Nineveh are foreigners and yet they believe and repent. Jesus' point is that, if foreigners can believe and acknowledge God, what excuse do Jews have who can see the Son of God teaching in their midst, and yet meet him with resistance rather than repentance? Jesus states that his ministry is even greater than Jonah's was, and yet his people still do not repent. I recall that poignant verse from the first chapter of John's Gospel:
"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:10-12)
Now Jesus turns from his demonstration of the wickedness of his generation to a discussion of light and darkness.
"No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light." (11:33)
Jesus taught the same truths hundreds of times in countless villages up and down Palestine. I'm most familiar with this saying in the Sermon on the Mount where it is in the context of the disciples' witness:
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
But the saying also occurs elsewhere in the context of Jesus being the lamp burning brightly. Right after the Parable of the Sower, and immediately before Jesus' warning that nothing will be hidden or concealed, Jesus says,
"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." (Luke 8:16)
In our present context, Jesus has just compared his own preaching with that of Jonah and Solomon. He says that "one greater than Solomon is here" and "one greater than Jonah is here" (11:32-33). Jesus is the lamp shedding his powerful light into the bodies and lives of those with sound "eyes," but being blocked out by those with unsound "eyes."
Jesus' message is not given in a corner but spread abroad for all. However, reception of his truth is dependent upon the character of the recipient.
"Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness." (11:34)
We're used to thinking of lamps in terms of witness, lighting the house so others can see. But here Jesus switches the metaphor. Instead of lighting others, the body's eyes are seen as lenses that shed light into the body itself. This isn't, of course, a scientific concept but a spiritual one. The shining light is Jesus, but his light comes into our life only if we have open hearts to see and believe the truth. Then we are filled with the inner "glow" of spiritual life.
It all depends upon the health of our spiritual eyes. The word translated "good" is Greek haplous, which means "single, simple, sincere."464 "The word-group is most used to express such positive values as free from inner discord, innocent, upright, pure.465 So when this idea of singleness and simpleness is applied to the physical eye, it probably means healthy vision, in contrast to "double vision."466
The description of bad eyes uses the Greek word ponēros, used a few verses previously to describe the "wicked" generation (11:29). In the physical sense it means "in poor condition, sick," and in the ethical sense, "wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, degenerate."467
Healthy spiritual eyes allow the full light of Christ's presence and truth to flood into us. But sick, wicked, selfish spiritual eyes, like the Pharisees had, keep us in darkness.
Psychologists tell us that we all have a filtering system so that we can concentrate on the important stimuli that we receive, and ignore or filter out all of the unimportant stimuli. Marketers tell us that we see hundreds or thousands of advertising messages each day. To keep our sanity, we filter most of them out. Sometimes men filter out the nagging of their wives, and wives filter out the abusive language of their husbands. We are capable of shutting ourselves into our own little world, even in the midst of powerful stimuli of noise and motion and light. Filtering mechanisms are necessary.
The real question, then, is what have we set our filters to filter out? Is our filtering system sound? Does it let in that which is true and good and wholesome, or is it set to admit the perverse, hateful, and obscene? What does it pick up on? Jesus' admonition is squarely to us disciples:
"See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you." (11:35-36)
Is your spiritual ear tuned to the negatives or to the positives? Is your spiritual ear sensitive enough to hear God's voice clearly? Or have you been filtering out God for so long that it is a habit? How do you know even what is right and good, and what is not? Sadly, some churches can grossly distort our understanding and our ability to see and hear from God.
We start with Jesus and his words. We are engaged in a two- to three-year walk with Jesus through the Gospel of Luke for just this purpose. To hear his words clearly and to internalize them. To use him as the standard by which we will evaluate all other truth. To absorb his worldview and his attitude toward people. To become his disciples indeed!
Are there things you and I accept and believe that are false? Yes, probably so. We need exposure to the full strength of Jesus' Light and Spirit to change us and give us true discernment. The Pharisees saw Jesus preach and men and women respond in faith. They saw miracles and exorcisms, but they discerned them through their unhealthy, sick, self-protecting, wicked spiritual eyes, and saw Jesus as their enemy rather than their Friend. We can't afford to miss him. We must know him as he is!
"Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you." (11:36)
Father, when I see what hangs on my decisions, the validity of my spiritual perceptions, the health of my spiritual eyes, I cry out to you to make me whole. Heal my eyes, Lord. Flood me with your light. Please help me to open the dark places in myself to your light and truth and loving cleansing. Help me, Lord, for if what I think is light is really darkness, then I am lost. My trust is in you, Lord. Your words are my trail signs, your Spirit is my Guide. Lead me. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness." (Luke 11:35-36)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- What was the Sign of Jonah to Jesus' generation? Why was it even more convincing than healing the sick? (11:29-30)
- What does the lamp in 11:33 represent? Why is the lamp not hid but put on a stand?
- In what way does our spiritual enlightenment depend upon the health of our spiritual eyes? What sharpens our spiritual discernment? What dulls it?
- How do we recover our spiritual discernment from years spent in sin or a cult or a rigid, legalistic church?
- Extra credit. What is the relationship between our repentance from sin and God's grace? Why don't all repent and respond to his grace? Let's stay away from doctrinal answers we may have learned, and seek the answer to this question in Luke's Gospel.
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 Sēmeion, BAGD 747-748. See also Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, sēmeion, ktl., TDNT 7:200-269, especially p. 233. Marshall, Luke, p. 484.
 Ponēros, BAGD 690-692.
 Pairazō, BAGD 640.
 Haplous, BAGD 86.
 Otto Bauernfeind, haplous, haplotēs, TDNT 1:386-387.
 So Marshall, Luke, p. 489.
 Ponēros, BAGD 690-692
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