Luke XLII: Lk. 11:29-36
We live in an age of skeptics. Often this is presented as a thoughtful, intelligent position to take, but Jesus addresses the skeptics of his ministry as cynics and sloths. Jesus condemns those “who were seeking a sign” (Lk. 11:16) as evil and full of darkness. Therefore, it’s very important to understand the difference between honest inquiry and the sin of cynicism.
Seeking a Sign
Jesus says that no sign will be given to this evil generation but the sign of Jonah the prophet. Surely part of the “evil” is the fact that Jesus has already performed many signs and healings during His ministry, including the very recent exorcism (Lk. 11:14). In Matthew’s parallel account, Jesus explicitly identifies the “sign” with Jonah being in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (Mt. 12:39-40). In Luke’s account, Jesus emphasizes the men of Nineveh repenting at the “preaching of Jonah” (Lk. 11:32), which may imply that what happened to Jonah may have formed part of his message to the Assyrians. Sandwiched between references to Jonah is the “queen of the south” who heard of Solomon’s wisdom and came to test him (1 Kgs. 10:1-13). Luke’s emphasis here is evaluating wisdom and greatness. If the queen of Sheba could recognize Solomon’s wisdom as a foreign gentile, the blindness of these “undecided” Jews is great. This is why their indecision or skepticism is evil.
The Light of the Body
In this context, Jesus tells something of a parable about light and darkness. Beginning with an image of a candle in a dark room (Lk. 11:33), Jesus shifts to the image of a body letting light in through the lamp of the eye (Lk. 11:34-36). Notice that this fits with what Jesus said previously about the unclean spirit leaving a person and returning to find the house “swept and put in order” (Lk. 11:25). The body is a house, and every house is a body. In Matthew’s parallel of this image, the point is clearly tied to choosing between serving God and money (Mt. 6:19-24). The healthy eye in that context is one that has chosen God as master and rejected money. This is why Proverbs says that the man with a “good eye” shares his bread with the poor (Prov. 22:9). The evil eye is greedy and covetousness, filling the body with darkness (cf. Lk. 11:39). In our context in Luke, we have a similar tension, a hesitancy between choices. In Luke, the choice is between Jesus and Satan, between the Strong Man and the Stronger Man, between a house infested with demons and a house filled with the Holy Spirit. The lamp-body-house image would likely have reminded Jews of the tabernacle/temple in which a lamp burned with holy oil in the Holy Place continually, symbolizing the presence of the Spirit in the house-body of Israel (Ex. 40:24-38).
Cleaning Cups & Dishes
As Jesus was saying these things, Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner (Lk. 11:37). The Pharisee is astonished by the fact that Jesus doesn’t keep the Jewish tradition of ceremonial washing before a meal, which was not actually required by the law but a precautionary action (Lk. 11:38). But Jesus says that the real offense is the fact that the Pharisees are all concerned about these ceremonial traditions while they are actually full of “greed and wickedness” inside (Lk. 11:39). Jesus calls them “fools” for thinking that God doesn’t care about the “inside” of the cup, the inside of their hearts, the inside of their house (Lk. 11:40). Jesus says that the way the Pharisees can be “clean” is if they “give as alms those things that are within” (Lk. 11:41). This suggests that there is actually more connection between this context and the parallel Matthew passage. It cannot be an accident that Jesus has just taught His disciples to pray, finding their identity in God’s kingdom, trusting Him to provide their daily bread (Lk. 11:2-3). And in that context, Jesus has cast out a mute demon and run into this crowd of skeptics (Lk. 11:14-16). In other words, the kingdom of God is a community of prayerful dependence on our Father. But the kingdom of Satan is always an (false) offer of independence (cf. Lk. 4:5-7). Putting all of this together, the Pharisees (and the scribes and lawyers, etc.) – all highly respected members of society – represent a way of (apparent) political, economic, and social security in the first century, but Jesus is claiming that it is satanic darkness, a pious looking Ponzi scheme. This is why skeptics of Jesus could at least claim plausibility, but Jesus says it’s evil.
Conclusions & Applications
Malcom Gladwell has written about the sociological phenomena at work in cultures and communities when different kinds of people make decisions about what they will buy or how they will act. While this is sometimes a function of what people believe, it is often also a function of peer pressure. People do things that they know are not good or don’t do things they know would be good, all the time. Often this is rooted in deep insecurity, but instead of seeking our security in Christ, we are often paralyzed by shifting opinions of men, which is ultimately a form of self-sufficiency. Rather than trusting Christ, we trust ourselves to navigate the winds of life.
Perhaps an even more insidious form of this is actually a form of sloth. Jeff Cook argues rather persuasively that sloth is not mere laziness, but rather it is a failure to judge reality rightly, and so it ends up zealous for frivolous things and indifferent about the most consequential. This is the curse of bad eyes, dark eyes, the inability to see clearly and let light in. The one with bad eyes hoards and oppresses (Prov. 22:9, 16), has irrational fears (Prov. 22:13), falls for the flattery of seduction (Prov. 22:14), and is sometimes even conned by the folly of children (Prov. 22:15). Skepticism is a self-protecting, self-serving form of laziness. We are like people who have lost their glasses who do not want to admit that we cannot see, and we try to cover up our blindness with zeal for frivolous things.
Jesus says that we should “give as alms those things that are within” then all things will be clean. Alms are gifts to the poor. This is not some kind of indulgence, as though if you’ve been a lazy fool, you can purchase cleansing. No, but the point is to stop living in self-sufficiency, saying you are just fine, that you will take care of yourself, like the church in Laodicea saying, “I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). Beggars band together, and we are all beggars who need the gold of Jesus, the white garments of Jesus, and our eyes healed by Jesus (Rev. 3:18). Cynicism is sinful because is it fundamentally refuses to see its own poverty, nakedness, and blindness, and therefore refuses to cling to Christ.
Skepticism can often be a deep and satanic form of self-sufficiency, but the death and resurrection of Jesus is the great sign that our Father is faithful and that we can trust Him. In Christ, there is a great world to explore and to study (with many challenging questions), but apart from Him, we cannot even begin to honestly search for answers. We are like blind men trying to take up water colors.