What Does Jesus Mean about the Eye and Two Masters?

Summary: The disciple of Jesus must have one allegiance to Him alone. We cannot serve all these other masters. We cannot put morality on hold. We must be good stewards of the gifts God entrusts to us.


In my last post, I talked about Jesus’s teaching about valuing heavenly treasures. In this post, I will cover a hard to understand metaphor Jesus uses, and how we cannot serve two masters.

Have you ever read something in the Bible and scratched your head? What do these sayings I don’t understand the meaning, and how can I apply them to my life if I don’t understand them? We’ve all been there. I still have those moments.

I often look to commentaries and other resources in my library to seek understanding of such things. As we cover the Sermon on the Mount and grow in our discipleship, we come across one of those enigmatic statements.

I will talk about the meanings of Jesus’s statements about good and bad eyes and what the lamp of the body means. Only then can we apply what we learn from Jesus. We will also talk about what it means to serve two masters. Let’s get started.

Lamp of the Body (Matthew 6:22)?

What does Jesus mean by lamp of the body? We in the Western world don’t understand this phrase. But when you look at the culture Jesus came to dwell in, you will see a clear understanding. We think we understand how the body works better than the ancients.

The Jews understood that the eye functions as the leader of the body. Whatever you see, that’s where your body will go. If I look at something, I will move toward that object. Before games like Halo, the characters moved toward whatever they looked at. Now, you can walk one way and look another way.

The lamp of the body brings light into the heart and soul. Jews understood the eyes to be lamps because they guided their way and let in the light to see. We know today that our pupils need light to discern objects and colors. It’s fascinating to study how different colors have different temperatures. The light helps us see everything around us.

But for the Jews, the eye was the gatekeeper for the body. It let in the light so a person knew where to go. Jesus uses this understanding of the eye as a metaphor for how we live morally. Do we make our heart and soul line up with Jesus’s teachings as His disciples, or do we try to find our own way.

Wouldn’t Jesus have corrected misunderstandings about the eyes and how they work? When God intervenes in the affairs of nature and humanity, He comes to us on our level. The people Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to would not have understood a deep scientific description of the eye and how it works.

He came to them on their level, used their cultural understanding, and effectively taught them on their level, sometimes boosting their understanding. We can use the same approach for our culture. If you see a slogan that gives room for Jesus, you can use it as a springboard to talk about Him with others who may not understand Him otherwise.

Good and Bad Eyes (Matthew 6:23)

Commentators contend with one another the meaning of the good and bad eye. If we understand Jesus to be saying “good and bad” eyes, then we need clarification. I’ve been legally blind since birth. Is Jesus saying I cannot understand the spiritual things He teaches because I have defective eyes?

Surely not. Jesus was only in the business of offending religious leaders who bullied others. Other commentators suggest the best translation is, “healthy and unhealthy.” We can use the words “good and bad” and “healthy and unhealthy” to describe morality, which is where Jesus is headed.

A healthy, or good, eye suggest that a person is generous metaphorically. Similarly, and unhealthy, or bad, eye connotes a person who is stingy. This doesn’t just have to be about money. It can be about time, resources, assistance, and anything else we steward.

Jesus doesn’t talk about the eyes, but the eye. One I has singular attention to whatever it sees. Believe it or not, this whole teaching of Jesus from talking about our true treasure to the single eye to serving two masters has one theme: allegiance.

Do we simply, wholeheartedly, and generously chase after Jesus, or do we allow the cares of this life and the things around us distract us from following Him? Are our eyes focused on Jesus, or do we look at the winds and waves around us like Peter (Matthew 14:30)?

Light and Darkness

You may be more familiar with the idea of the eye being the lamp of the body and its corresponding talk on morality by Jesus through the writings of John. John wrote about light and darkness, taking a cue from the prophets in the Old Testament. Light and darkness represent the moral qualities of righteousness and wickedness.

Jesus presents the same idea here. If the eye in the understanding of the Jews of His time is directed by light, and the eyes are unhealthy, then a person cannot walk in moral righteousness. Instead, they only see the darkness, the wickedness. Similarly, if the eyes are bad or unhealthy, a person’s conduct is bad or wicked. That’s why Jesus comments, “and how great is that darkness.”

Earlier, I mentioned that another way to understand the good and bad eye deals with our generosity or stinginess. This fits nicely to transition from talking about where our treasure lies, also about our allegiance to heaven and godly things, to the teaching about the eye to the teaching about allegiance to one master.

I want to point out as a preacher and teacher that the moment we start talking about money, many of my people are either completely turned off to the teaching that follows this subject, or they are overly interested in money. Jesus doesn’t speak about money here to address our banking account or how we steward our finances.

He is talking about where our priorities lie. Look at your bank account. Where do you spend your money? Does more money go to one thing than another? You can tell a person’s priorities by looking at their bank account. Do they spend a lot of money on luxuries, entertainment, sports, etc.? That’s where their heart is.

Moving to the teaching on the eye of the body, what do you watch on TV? This talks about your priorities and the things that fill your mind. What entertains you? What do you spend your time viewing? You can see how this gets very personal very quickly.

Once we understand how Jesus talks about the healthy and unhealthy eye, we see a clearer picture of the connections from our treasure to our conduct to our allegiance to Jesus.

Allegiance to Jesus (Matthew 6:24)

Jesus continues to talk about allegiance to God, switching from talks of money to talking about slavery. No wonder we don’t understand the principles Jesus teaches. We don’t have slavery anymore in the Western world, do we? You may be surprised if you find the answer to that question is, “Absolutely!”

I try to stay away from politics as much as possible, but this is only an illustration, not a commentary on politics of our day. Right now, we have people streaming over our southern border here in America. Many of them are children abused in different ways by cartels. They are under servitude because the cartels expect them to pay back the money it takes to get them across the border.

Some of these migrants are ill-treated by the cartels, used for human and sex trafficking. Once again, this is not a political commentary on whether our border should be so open. My point is that slavery still exists around the world. In many places, like India, the Middle East, and other places around the world, slavery is very much a today issue.

Slavery existed in Jesus’s days. Paul talks about it extensively. Jesus uses slavery to talk about our allegiances to God or to money. Notice, this is the third time Jesus references finances. I am not writing a blog post about finances right now, but as Jesus’s disciple, you need to make sure that your values and treasure are in the right place. Perhaps I will write about our priorities as disciples of Jesus in finances some other time. I like to talk about our stewardship of God’s resources entrusted to us instead of just money.

What does Jesus mean about serving two masters? Surely, in Bible times a slave could serve two masters. We do today all the time. Some people call it “multitasking,” which is actually a misnomer. Your brain can only focus on one thing. It just switches between two things quickly. That is not multitasking. It is shifting your focus quickly. But I digress.

Jesus wasn’t saying you can’t have multiple masters in your life. By multiple masters, I’m talking about doing multiple things. That’s not what Jesus is saying here. He is using the image of slavery to explain that our allegiance must not be to Jesus and another first love, or love of our lives. Paul later says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

To serve Jesus and money means that Jesus is not King of your heart. He shares His Lordship and control over you with money. Jesus will not share with another lord. He alone must be your Lord and King. None of us disciples can live our life to gain money as the sole reason for our existence. The only thing we chase after is Jesus. He is our reason for being.

Anything you prioritize over Jesus, or seek to hoard in this life, is your master. We want Jesus to be our Master. His teachings are all we care about, and want to fulfill in our lives. If we seek anything other than Jesus and prioritize it, we have idols and Masters, not the Master. Let us endeavor to keep our allegiances firmly fixed on Jesus and let nothing else distract us from running the race for Him.

Growth Challenge

Look at your bank account, the things you watch, and the activities you commit to. Is there anything in your life that has control of you? What is the boss of your life? Do you have any addictions that keep you from clear-minded service to Jesus? Make sure Jesus is the priority of your life.

Up Next

Now that we have talked about having a sound eye and allegiance to Jesus, the next thing Jesus teaches us is not to worry.

Image by S K from Pixabay

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