An Obstacle to the True Riches
Robert Wurtz II
And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you (Luke 11:29-41).
I have quoted a large passage of scripture in the Lukan corpus to demonstrate a focus frequently found within Luke the beloved physician’s writings (Luke and Acts). That focus is on repentance, in the John the Baptist sense, but more importantly on the specific area (I dare say) where most people need to repent. Our passage draws our attention to the Ninevites and the Pharisees with the word “evil” by referring to the people as “an evil generation” and then referencing “the evil eye.” The whole passage is utterly insightful to those who are interested in being more than a nominal Christian and avoiding what was dreadfully termed by Jesus as the hypocrite (Luke 6:42-43, et al).
An Evil Eye
When the Bible speaks of a person’s “eye being evil” it is a Hebraism for a stingy, grudging, and envious person (Proverbs 23:6, 28:22). Although my research shows that this truth has been known to Christians since at least the early 1700s (Hammond, A Practical Chatecism, 1715), it is still one of the most misunderstood and ignored aspects of the teachings and commandments of Jesus. Moreover, envy can be defined as displeasure at the blessing of another. Grudging is when a person gives something unwillingly or reluctantly. Stinginess is selfishness and greed wrapped into one. Taken together, the “evil eye” is a detestable attitude in the sight of God from which the only remedy is genuine repentance. It blinds the person to true and pure religion.
God has always turned His attention to the “evil eye” types, whether it be individuals such as Nabal whom God killed for his abominable greediness (1 Samuel. 25:38), or whole cities such as Sodom, that wallowed in abundance, time, and resources, but rather than strengthening the hands of the needy, they used their time and resources to commit abominations (Ezekiel. 16:47-51). One clear example given by Jesus of a person who we know went to hell to be tormented in the flames (be it a parable or not) was the rich man who refused to help poor Lazarus (Luke 16:24). Let that sink in.
Bowels of Compassion
The basic message found in these passages in Luke is that God expects us to be mindful of and merciful to our fellow man or woman. We are to be people of compassion and generosity as was Jesus. John the Revelator seems to ask in effect, “What kind of Christian, who has the ability and means to help, could walk by a person who is clearly in distress and need and shut up the bowels of their compassion?” (See 1 John 3:17) In holiness circles, we emphasize the love of God being poured out in our hearts, and rightly so. However, if that love does not move us to expel our time and resources in the face of a need then we need to question what we actually received. The love of God will move us to act lovingly.
The Ninevites had no “bowels of compassion.” They were merciless people. They could brutally murder and then celebrate and memorialize the bloodbath with murals on the walls of their hallowed halls. They were savage and God said they didn’t have sense enough to know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11). Why? Because they didn’t know the One True God. They didn’t have the scriptures to instruct them. They were spiritually and morally blind. Yet they repented at the preaching of Jonah.
The Pharisees (who were the guardians of the Law) tried to “clean themselves” in all kinds of ways. They had what I might call a “Sin-o-phobic” outlook—constantly worried about something being clean or unclean. That was their emphasis. Yet Jesus told them, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.” They had majored on the minors (so to speak). They worried more about breaking the Sabbath than seeing a person healed—yet they would pull an animal from a ditch on the Sabbath if one fell in. Why? Because they were greedy. They would save a dollar but wouldn’t save a soul. They failed to understand that the Law was designed to teach them to love God and their fellow human beings.
What did Jesus say? They were inwardly full of greed and wickedness. The Greek word here for greed is harpage and it means to seize by force or to plunder. Rather than being givers, these people were takers—the exact opposite disposition that God intended them to have. Moreover, we see many of these characteristics bundled in Mark 7:22 (thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness). No matter where God has revealed these bad attitudes and behaviors the remedy is the same: repentance.
The Darkness of an Evil Eye
When a person is moving in “the evil eye” their whole body is full of darkness. This is what Jesus plainly said. They can’t see the truth the way they ought. Greed and meanness darken their whole thinking pattern and outlook. It is a stronghold in their mind that must be thrown down in order for them to understand the things of God. On the other hand, “the good eye” opens the mind and heart to the light needed to see the truth of God’s word and to receive clearly what He reveals to them. Whether its an “evil eye” or a “good eye” the attitude directly impacts our perspective of things. Simply put, we can see much better in the day than at night. A person who is greedy, stingy, mean, and selfish is inwardly like the darkness of night. Like the Pharisees, they may have religion, but they can’t rightly see the things of God.
Do you recall how John the Baptist told the people to give away one coat if they had two? (Luke 3:11) This was “fruits worthy of repentance.” Why? Because God expects people to repent of their personal greed and selfishness as one of the first orders of business. The idea is that we mustn’t horde things in the face of needy people. We mustn’t extort money from people as did some of the Publicans (Luke 3:13). He told the Roman soldiers to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14). Why? Do we think the Romans would tolerate a work strike? No! They may take things from people by force. To move in such greed is proof positive that one is moving in an evil eye.
This was a radical message. It’s radical today. We can lay up treasure in Heaven where no one can steal it and nothing can corrupt it. In other words, you can’t take it with you when you die. Would it not be wisdom to hold all of our possessions before the Lord and allow Him to do with them as He sees fit?
An Obstacle to the True Riches
If we can’t be trusted with the unrighteous mammon who will commit to us the true riches (Luke 16:9-13)? A generous attitude is key to having an abundance of everything from material resources to the miraculous, to revelation knowledge and insight into the scriptures (the true riches), to abundant fruit in ministry (souls). Giving is the antidote for greed. A godly heart is a giving heart. When God the Father expressed His great love for us while we were yet sinners, He did it by giving (John 3:16).
Why should we get hung up on particulars until we become like the Pharisees who cleaned the outside of the cup, but missed the very point that God wanted them to get? “But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you” (Luke 11:41). Don’t steal or greedily “get all you can and can all you get” (as the old-timers used to say) but rather work and labor (with your hands or your mind) as God gives you the ability so that you can give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28). We can’t serve God and money, but we can make our money serve God. It’s our choice. So shall you be His disciples.