The need for generous eyes
God cares deeply about the state of our souls. For this reason God calls us away from a heart of hoarding, and He calls us to a heart of generosity.
Dr. Norm Wakefield points out, “Psychiatrist Karl Menninger observed that giving was a mark of mental health. He found that generous people are rarely mentally ill. Their focus is less likely to be inward. They do not have as great a need to hoard their resources. Generous individuals are less fearful that others will exploit them. Sharing their resources brings joy and fulfillment to their lives.”
That’s what God wants for our souls: less fear and more joy and fulfillment. The way we get there is by turning from hoarding to generosity.
Harry Emerson Fosdick adds, “The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are made of the same water. It flows down, clear and cool, from the heights of Hermon and the roots of the cedars of Lebanon. The Sea of Galilee makes beauty of it, for the Sea of Galilee has an outlet. It gets to give. It gathers in its riches that it may pour them out again to fertilize the Jordan plain. But the Dead Sea with the same water makes horror. For the Dead Sea has no outlet. It gets to keep.”
That’s why God calls us away from a heart of hoarding, and why He calls us to a heart of generosity. God wants our hearts to be less like the Dead Sea and more like the beauty of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus addresses this directly in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Following these verses, Jesus says something else that always mystified me…until I understood better the translation and read it in proper context. Jesus said, in Matthew 6:22-23, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
The Greek word translated as “good” in verse 22 is haplous. It is translated as “generous” in James 1:5. In Romans 12:8 and 2 Corinthians 9:11 it has to do with liberality of giving. Likewise, the Greek word translated as “bad” in verse 23 is poneros. It is used in the Septuagint in Deuteronomy 15:9 and Proverbs 23:6 and Proverbs 28:22 to describe a person who is miserly, begrudging about giving, or greedy.
Suddenly Matthew 6:22-23 begins to make sense to me: Jesus, who cares deeply about the state of our souls, is telling us that the person whose eyes (and soul) are generous will be full of light (and beauty and health and joy and fulfillment). But the person whose eyes (and soul) are miserly, begrudging, and greedy will be full of Dead Sea-like darkness.
I am struck by the contrast between Buddy Post and Jeremy Taylor.
On September 1, 1996, the Chicago Tribune ran a story about Buddy Post, who was described as “living proof that money can’t buy happiness.” In 1988, Post won 16.2 million dollars in the Pennsylvania Lottery. During the eight years following that win, Post was convicted of assault, his sixth wife left him, his brother was convicted of trying to kill him, and his landlady successfully sued him for one-third of the jackpot. When the article was written, Post was trying to auction off 17 future payments, valued at nearly $5 million, in order to pay off taxes, legal fees, and a number of failed business ventures. He was also pursuing lawsuits he had filed against police, judges, and lawyers whom he claims had conspired to take his money. He said, “I’m just going to stay at home and mind my p’s and q’s. Money draws flies.” Rather than filling him with joy or fulfillment, that treasure depleted Buddy Post’s soul.
On the other hand, even when Jeremy Taylor’s ‘treasure’ was taken away, the state of his soul withstood the adversity. In his book Facing Loneliness, J. Oswald Sanders writes, “When Jeremy Taylor, the old Puritan, had his house burglarized, all his choicest possessions taken, and his family turned out of doors, he knelt down and thanked God that his enemies had left him the sun and moon, a loving wife and many friends to pity and relieve, the providence of God, all the promises of the gospel, his faith, his hope of heaven, and his charity toward his enemies…. With wealth such as this, no burglar could impoverish him.” Because his eyes (and his soul) were generous, his entire being remained “full of light.”