No one, having lit a candle, puts it in a secret place, …but on a candlestick, so that those who come in may see the light.
The light of the body is the eye: therefore when your eye is single, your whole body also is full of light; but when your eye is evil, your body too is full of darkness.
Take caution therefore that the light that is in you is not darkness.
If your whole body is full of light – having no dark part – the whole shall be full of light, as when a candle’s bright shining gives you light.
This passage is intriguing in several ways.
First is the imagery of the eye as the body’s light or lamp. In this text, the eye has two illuminating functions. As the body’s light, the eye has its common function of providing sight; the eye acts as a “lamp” that allows us to see what we are doing in the external world. Yet, the eye about which Jesus is speaking has a dual function. It not only illuminates the outer world, but it also illuminates the world inside the body, the place where the soul dwells. It is an unusual lamp. capable of projecting inward both elements of darkness as well as elements of light.
Second is the association of singleness of vision with light and therefore implicitly with goodness. Elsewhere, Jesus brings the ideas of singleness or completeness together in an expression of wholeness and goodness, for example his famous injuction to be “all-embracing” (“perfect”) even as God is all-embracing (Matthew 5:48; obliquely 19:21). Jesus draws a connection between possessing singleness of vision and being full of light and its implicit goodness.
Third is the association of “evil” vision with internalized darkness. Perhaps if singleness of vision connotes wholeness, then its opposite connotes fragmentation, evilness of vision thus representing a fractured viewpoint. Perhaps it could even be said, without damaging the analogy, that evilness of vision results from a fractured glass or a broken lens. A broken lamp illuminates the landscape “darkly” and it projects that darkness inward. A lack of embracing completeness estranges from the light.
Fourth is the injunction to examine what one has internalized. Is it light or is it darkness? This, if nothing else, seems an invitation to meditative or contemplative prayer, which Gospel portraits of Jesus’ all-night and lengthy wilderness prayer vigils, indicate his personal practice of internalized prayer and his disciples’ witnessing of – if not full participation in – such prayer.
Finally there is the social dimension of singleness of vision. The first line of the passage talks about how once a person has lit a candle, he or she does not then proceed to hide it. Instead, the person mounts the candle on a candlestick so that it may give light “for all those who come in.”
Here Jesus seems to be observing that, once one’s “whole” is fully illuminated, others too can see by that light. The illuminated person then becomes a lamp for others – an idea fully congruent with Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:14, 16). We are well-acquainted with the figure of Jesus as the Light of the World. But in simple passages such as the ones under consideration, he is making the same claim for us.