Everything We See Depends on the Condition of the Eyes
At first sight this might seem to thoughtful readers a somewhat inappropriate comparison. For a lamp is an organ that distributes light, and the eye an organ that receives it. Put a lamp into a darkened chamber, and the room is lightened by its radiance; but put an eye into that chamber and the darkness still remains. It seems strange at first, to thoughtful readers, that our Lord, who never spoke in foolishness, should compare the eye of the body to a lamp.
But the point of comparison on which the Master seizes is entirely independent of that contrast. His point is that everything we see depends on the condition of the lamp. If a lamp is burning brightly we see things as they are. We recognize the books upon the table, and the photographs upon the wall. But if a lamp be flickering or smoky everything is distorted or obscured, and so, says the Lord, is it with the eye. If you are color-blind you cannot see the glorious redness of the rose. If short-sighted you cannot see the friend who is signaling to you from the hill. If you suffer from impending cataract I may sit on the next chair to you and yet all that you distinguish is a shadow. Still is the rose red, though you cannot see it in your color-blindness. Still is the friend waving on the hill or seated by your side. There is nothing the matter with reality; the pity is that you are seeing badly—the lamp of the body is the eye.
One might illustrate that point from one of the healing miracles of Jesus. I refer to the cure of the blind man in the eighth chapter of St. Mark. When our Lord asked the man if he saw aught, he replied that he saw men as trees walking. Now these men were not trees; they were ordinary and law-abiding citizens. Yet to him they were all specters, threatening and gigantic, just because he was not seeing rightly. The lamp was flickering, and objects were distorted. I do not think he would ever forget that, even when he came to die. He would never be frightened by specters any more, even the grim specter of the grave. He would recall the day when in the village street there were fearsome’ and gigantic forms, and they all sprang from his imperfect vision.
What We See Depends on What We Are
And so passing into deeper regions we detect the truth the Master is proclaiming. He is proclaiming that what we spiritually see really depends on what we are. As the lamp conditions the aspect of the room, so does the inward eye condition everything. We see by life and character, by all that we have made ourselves, by every secret sin that we have cherished, by every battle we have fought and won. There was He, moving in their midst, shining in the splendor of good deeds. He was set on a candlestick, visible, conspicuous, radiant in loveliness of life. Yet some said He was beside Himself, and some that He was a glutton and a wine-bibber, and others that He cast out devils by Beelzebub. They saw by what they were. Bound in their ancient prejudices, angry at being interfered with, eager to justify themselves, convicted of their sin, they described the Carpenter, but could not see the Lord. If any of my readers are like that—if they see the Carpenter but cannot see the Lord—let me ask them, tenderly and quietly, What kind of life have you been living?
The same truth that Jesus uses here to explain the rejection of Himself runs out into every environment, whether of nature or of man. What we see in others ultimately depends on what we are. When the inward lamp is bright we see reality. When it is smoky everything is smutty. The judgments which we pass on other people (and we pass such judgments every day) are always judgments of ourselves. When our Lord said, Judge not that ye be not judged, He was not thinking of an external fiat. He did not mean (as some have taken it) that curses come home to roost. He meant that what we see in other people reveals our real character, and on that is based the judgment of eternity. The lamp of the body is the eye. If the lamp be dim everything is dulled. If the inward eye has a cataract, loveliness itself is but a blur. That is why certain folk could look on Him who was the Altogether Lovely One and only see a glutton and a wine-bibber.
It is just there that our Lord reveals the glory of His nature. Judge Him by what He saw and you touch the tassel of the Son of God. He saw the Kingdom in a mustard-seed, and the adoring woman in a harlot. He saw the solid rock in Simon, and the lover in the son of thunder. He saw in a child the citizen of heaven, in a bit of bread His broken body, in a cup of common wine His sacred blood. If what we see depends on what we are, who shall fathom the glory of the Lord? Never was there a vision such as this, because never was there a nature such as this. The argument from vision has been strangely neglected by the theologians in their proofs of the divinity of Christ. My dear reader, if the eyes of God are like the eyes of the Lord Jesus—if God sees as Jesus saw when He moved across our sinful world—then there is hope for you and me, and we can rise after a hundred failures and hitch our wagon to the star again.