The Lamp and the Lampstand

No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a washtub or shoves it under the bed. No, you set it up on a lamp stand so those who enter the room can see their way. We're not keeping secrets; we're telling them. We're not hiding things; we're bringing everything out into the open. So be careful that you don't become misers of what you hear. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes. [Luke 8:16-18, The Message Bible] Jesus is more humorous that we often realize, and he probably said this with a bit of mirth, his listeners joining in on the joke. You don't light a lamp and then hide it. The idea is absurd and comical.

In Jesus’ time, lamps were small clay receptacles meant to hold olive oil and a simple wick system. This was the lamp Jesus was talking about, a familiar everyday object. And the point of this parable is also simple: when one lights a lamp, one does so to light up the surroundings. Lamps are meant to affect their environment.

In Luke 8, Jesus mixes his metaphors, making the sudden move from seeds to lamps. But the meaning remains constant: this is about an openness to the words of Jesus, an openness that is defined by careful listening, an openness that is like being implanted with seeds, and being lit like a lamp. It is an openness that will literally change how we think, and how we talk.

But while the parable of the lamp stand implies an openness to God it also implies an openness to others. To paraphrase Jesus here, if the light of God has come into your own soul through careful listening to Jesus, then that ought not to be covered up. Talk about what you see and hear. Talk about the effect of the light of Christ upon your own person, your own condition and soul, your own circumstances. Make sure who you are is visible through your conversation.

It might be helpful to see ourselves in this middle position between listening to Jesus and listening to others. We need to do both well, to listen to the hearts around us even as we listen intently to the meanings and message of Jesus. As I read this parable, especially the challenge to share the light of what I have heard, I realize that one of the greatest challenges for me continues to be the challenge to really listen well to those around me. It is in listening well to both Jesus and my friends that I will know how to share this light best. I have this growing awareness that so much real and true light can be shared through meaningful conversation. It is in conversation that we share who we are with each other, and it is in conversation that the light of God can be transferred from heart to heart.

English mystery writer Agatha Christie is famous for her detective stories and for the wonderful character of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who appears in more than 30 of her books. Poirot is not only a brilliant sleuth but also an amusing source of useful quotations, mainly because of his insight into human nature. In one of his investigations, Poirot tells his sidekick Hastings:

There is nothing so dangerous for anyone who has something to hide as conversation! A human being, Hastings, cannot resist the opportunity to reveal himself and express his personality which conversation gives him. Every time he will give himself away.

Jesus is calling us to give ourselves away. Our words reveal who we are. Get people together, get them talking, and it doesn’t take long to see what is there, whether there is something like a hopeful light or something more like a foggy confusion. What Jesus is challenging us with here is to get lit with his light and get into the conversation.

questions and ideas to ponder: 1. take a moment to ponder this general idea before you answer: what is the general condition of the hearts around you? what are you hearing as people talk? where do you see light in the people you listen to? where do you see darkness? 2. listen to yourself talk: what state is the light within you? you may be a committed follower of Jesus, but how might you describe your speech and conversation lately? why? 3. what light have you received that you need to share? what possible difference do you think it could make? what keeps you from sharing it?