"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt 6:22-23)
What does 'the lamp' symbolize?The first question that may arise is the symbolism regarding the lamp. Actually, the metaphorical use of the word "lamp" was recorded by several of the prophets - including David, Samuel, Job and others:
You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light. (2 Samuel 22:29)We can see from these verses that the word "lamp" - which produces "light" - is being used metaphorically to describe the effect of a loving relationship with the Supreme Being. The statement, "You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light" illustrates the effects of dedicating oneself to the Supreme Being.
You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. (Psalm 18:28)
For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life (Proverbs 6:23)
The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out. (Proverbs 13:9)
The lamp of a wicked man is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning. (Job 18:5)
This is the same with David's statement, "You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light." When a person relies upon the Supreme Being, the effect upon their life is likened to the light of a lamp, because it provides guidance and joy.
Other comparisons to 'lamp'
These statements are added to the other references, regarding "the righteous" and "this teaching." Why are these also compared to a lamp?
In Biblical times there was no electricity. This means lamps were the means for seeing anything at night. As such, having a good lamp was critical. With a lamp one could walk around at night.
The "light of the righteous" is the guidance of those who are dedicated to the Supreme Being and thus providing those who are "in darkness" the ability to come to know and love the Supreme Being.
And the teachings - "this teaching" - of those dedicated followers of the Supreme Being also lend guidance to those of us in "darkness" by teaching us how to return to our relationship with the Supreme Being.
As to the other side of the coin, the lamp of "the wicked man" according to Job, is snuffed out. This means it will give no light to those in darkness. Such a person - "wicked man" - will not be able to help guide anyone towards their relationship with the Supreme Being.
Now that we get some background on the use of this lamp and light metaphor, let's uncover the meaning of the rest of Jesus' statement:
The meaning of 'the eye'
In other words, Jesus is not talking about the the physical eyeballs. He is speaking of ones consciousness. It is ones consciousness that directs the mind and is therefore "the faculty of knowing."
Just consider how ones consciousness directs the resources of the body and mind:
If our consciousness is directed towards being an astronaut, our senses and mind will learn how to become an astronaut. If our consciousness is directed towards becoming wealthy, our senses and our mind will be directed towards things that achieve wealth. If our consciousness is directed towards being admired or famous, our mind and senses will be directed towards achieving the admiration of others. If our consciousness is directed at having a big family, our mind and senses will seek that out.
Our life's direction is determined by our consciousness - which is directed by our goals and objectives, and executed by the physical mind and body.
And when our goals and objectives are self-centered, our consciousness becomes polluted by those desires and concoctions that we become geared towards.
This defines Jesus' metaphorical use of "when your eyes are healthy..." The word "healthy" is being translated from the Greek word ἁπλοῦς (haplous) - which actually means "simple" or "whole." It might therefore better be translated to "wholesome."
A healthy or wholesome consciousness means ones consciousness is centered around their relationship with the Supreme Being. This is wholesome because it is our innate identity - we are children of the Supreme Being.
"your whole body"
In such a wholesome condition, our entire life - referred metaphorically as "your whole body" - will be focused upon doing those things that please the Supreme Being. This is the metaphorical condition of being "full of light." Jesus confirmed this when he said:
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:50)
But when the ones consciousness is polluted by self-centeredness - "unhealthy" translated from the Greek word πονηρός (ponēros) meaning "diseased" - ones entire life is polluted by greed and envy - equating to the metaphor "your body also is full of darkness."
This is the focus of ones consciousness upon the pleasures of the physical body, and achieving power, fame and fortune - even if they come at the cost of hurting others.
"See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness" instructively points uses the metaphor referring to ones relationship with the Supreme Being. This reflects specifically to Samuel's statement:
You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.
The meaning of the last sentence
"Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you."Jesus is speaking of ones internal relationship with the Supreme Being. When most consider religion we think of churches and temples and altars and rituals and scriptures and sermons and so on - these are things that affect our consciousness from externally. When our ears hear the teachings of God's representative or our eyes read the scriptures, our consciousness becomes purified by the reception of this external input.
But these external elements are ultimately made available to our senses by the Supreme Being.
The Supreme Being also avails Himself to us from within. This has been termed the "Holy Spirit" by Jesus and other teachers. This is the Supreme Being's internal manifestation, within which we can reach the Supreme Being.
This is why Jesus advised:
"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt 6:6)Jesus also taught his students that they can be given guidance by the Holy Spirit within:
"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)Jesus also instructed his students to rely upon the Holy Spirit when teaching:
"When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the
This internal relationship with the Holy Spirit within is what Jesus is referring to when he said "just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you."
It is important not to confuse the metaphor of the body in Jesus' analogy with our own identity. We are not these physical bodies. They are destined to die and then decompose. But each of us - the self within - lives on after the body dies. This self - this spirit-person - is not the physical body. It is simply a vessel.
A vessel of consciousness
Jesus is speaking of the body metaphorically - also as a vessel. A vessel of consciousness. Just as a lamp is a vessel of light - assuming it is lit.
Should we direct our consciousness towards the Supreme Being, He will direct us externally in such a way that we can receive the information - the guidance - to come to know Him better. This begins the process of our re-developing our innate relationship with the Supreme Being.
As this awareness of the Supreme Being expands, we learn to connect with the Supreme Being from within. This renders "light" from within - in terms of its effect upon our consciousness. When we are reaching out to the Supreme Being from within - as we pray to Him and praise Him - we begin to connect with Him personally, gradually re-developing our relationship with Him.
This is the relationship Jesus was urging his students to develop with the Supreme Being: A personal loving relationship. This is expressed in Jesus' most important instruction:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)