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Seeing Clearly
Mark D. Roberts
Tuesday, December 10, 2013

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In Luke 11:33-36, Jesus uses the metaphor of light and lamps in a way that can seem confusing. Perhaps I can help us understand what Jesus is suggesting here.

"No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house" (v. 33). In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus uses this imagery to talk about how his disciples are to live in the world. Here, however, the lamp represents the message of Jesus, the proclamation of the kingdom of God. In word and in deed, Jesus has announced the presence and future coming of God's reign. His announcement has shone forth like a lamp placed on a stand.

So how does the light of the kingdom of God impact us? Jesus explains this in the next three verses. "Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness" (v. 34). People in the time of Jesus thought of the eye as a kind of lamb that sends light out into the world and then retrieves the light which is brought into the body, thus enabling humans to see. A "good" (the Greek means "single" or perhaps "focused") eye allows the body to be filled with the light from the outside. But a bad eye keeps someone from seeing. So far, Jesus is simply talking about the function of the eye in a way that was common in his day.

Verse 35 begins to move the conversation into metaphor: "Make sure the light you think you have is not actually darkness." Here the light is not literal light, but the light of truth. Many people in Jesus's day believed they had the light of God within them, but, in fact, they rejected the true light of the kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus. Thus, their "light" was actually "darkness." By mistaking the nature of the light, they allowed their souls to be filled with untruth.

In verse 36, Jesus offers hope: "If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light." It is possible for us to be so filled with light that our lives are radiant. How? Not by generating some inner light. Not by striving to do good works. Not by good intentions. Rather, our lives become radiant from the outside, from the light of God, and, in particular, from the light proclaimed and lived by Jesus, the brilliant flame of the kingdom of God. We will become radiant when we focus on Jesus, his message and ministry, and on God who is the reigning king. The more we allow the truth of God to fill us, the more we will shine with divine light. Our words and deeds will radiate with the truth and love of God.

Mark Roberts is a regular contributor to and the senior advisor and theologian-in-residence for Foundations for Laity Renewal. This article is adapted with permission from his original article "Living a Radiant Life" at All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures quoted are taken from the New Living Translation.

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