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Getting it Wrong!

How did Jesus teach?

Sometimes when you hear something umpteen times it can become so familiar that it loses its power or authority. This can be a real shame if it's a key teaching of Jesus that we're talking about. This is meant to be the Word of God, after all:

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

But there's a more worrying scenario. It's when we are taught a specific meaning of something Jesus said, that is completely wrong. This is a bold statement to make! After all, who am I to go against the accepted teachings of learned Christian commentators? Well, I make no apology here ... facts is facts, and here are the facts of the matter ...

Jesus was speaking as a Jew, living in a Jewish society, immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures. He often used idioms and Hebraisms in his teachings, sayings that could only be fully understood by those living in the same mindset. Sometimes this can be lost in translation. Can you imagine if a Frenchman was commissioned at a later date to commit your words to paper? And let's say that this Frenchman has no knowledge of common English idioms. He comes across one of your utterances, "and it rained cats and dogs" and just shrugs his shoulders and assumes that you were proclaiming a judgement akin to the plagues of Moses? Get my point?

Well, here’s a common misunderstanding, of that ilk.

"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". (Matthew 6:22-23).

Any Jew listening to this would know that this is absolutely nothing to do with light and darkness. It was a popular saying at that time, that if someone had a "good eye" then they were generous, if they had a "bad eye" then they were mean spirited.

The Mishnah, a collection of Jewish oral traditions, says, "The person with a good eye gave the 40th part of the first fruit of the heave offering for the maintaining of the priests, while the person with the evil eye gave only a 60th." It also says that "he that gives, but wants a monopoly on giving and does not want others to be able to give too is considered to have an evil eye."

Generosity is a good thing and a positive influence on your well-being, so that your body "will be full of light". This now gives real meaning to the next verse, which, otherwise, may seem a bit detached and "off the point".

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Matthew 6:24)

So Jesus is talking about how we use our personal finances, not our eyesight.

There will be more of these later on in this series.

Steve Maltz
March 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book 'Jesus Man of Many Names')

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