The Evil Eye

In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus has a lot to say about money, possessions, our heart in regard to our wealth, the way we respond to the possibility or reality of not having all that we think we need, and the need to seek God and His kingdom in all our financial affairs. But perhaps it’s often puzzled you, as it has puzzled me, why smack dab in the middle of this discussion of money and our attitudes toward it, Jesus speaks these words: “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23).

Are these verses out of place? Do they have anything at all to do with money? Or are these two verses speaking about our spiritual vision, the way we think about life, the “eye of the spirit,” i.e., the heart, poor spiritual vision, having wrong spiritual priorities? Is Jesus saying that “the dark spirit of anxiety that grips so many lives is caused by failure to focus spiritually, and by thinking about life with a mistaken – and diseased – perspective”? Even though I’m quoting from the commentary on the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, a far greater exegete and teacher and preacher than I am, I must disagree with his exegesis of these verses.

Literally, the Greek of Matthew 6 reads “if your eye is good” and “if your eye is evil.” This language of “a good eye” and “an evil eye” does not occur for the first time here in Jesus’ sermon. Rather, there are Old Testament precedents that help us to understand what Jesus is speaking about, and how we are to understand this passage. Listen to these passages:

Deuteronomy 15:9 – (speaking about the seventh year of remission of debts) “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile [Hebrew, evil] toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you.”

Deuteronomy 28:54 – (speaking about the terrible, cannibalistic times during a seige if Israel disobeyed God’s covenant) “hen you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you. 54 “The man who is refined and very delicate among you shall be hostile toward [Hebrew, his eye shall be evil toward] his brother and toward the wife he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain, 55 so that he will not give even one of them any of the flesh of his children which he will eat, since he has nothing else left, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you in all your towns.”

Proverbs 23:6 – “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man [Hebrew, of an evil eye], or desire his delicacies.”

Proverbs 28:22 – “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him.”

Proverbs 22:9 – “He who is generous [Hebrew, the good of eye] will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.”

Mark 7:21-22 – “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy [Greek, an evil eye], slander, pride and foolishness.”

Matthew 20:15 – (in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard) “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious [Greek, evil] because I am generous [Greek, good] ?”

I believe it is clear from these verses that the “good eye” is the generous eye, and the “evil eye” is the stingy, covetous, greedy, selfish, unsympathetic eye. Thus, in Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus is not moving away from the subject of money and wealth to “spiritual vision,” rather, He is remaining precisely on the topic of money, focusing in on our generosity (or lack thereof). Luke 12:33 and I Timothy 6:18-19 demonstrate that we “store up treasures in heaven” by being generous. Thus in Matthew 6:20 Jesus commands us to store up treasures in heaven, and then in 6:22-23 he focuses more pointedly on the organ of the body the Hebrews associated with generosity, the eye. Whether we are generous or not (whether our eye is good or evil) determines the course of our life; if we have a good eye, a generous heart, then our entire body (our whole life) will be filled with light; on the contrary, if we have an evil eye, a selfish and stingy heart, then our entire body (our whole life) will be filled with darkness. We cannot serve two masters, and only the service of God – and the generosity it produces – is a service of freedom, delight, luxury, and lasting peace and joy. The service of wealth/mammon – demonstrated by a lack of generosity, a tenacious clinging to your stuff – will only bring you further into a whirlpool of darkness, despair, bitter envy, hopelessness, and misery.

May the Lord give us all “good eyes.”




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