If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money’” (Matthew 6:22-24).
This quotation of Jesus, found in Matthew 6 and also in Luke 11:34, is a fascinating one, as it has been interpreted so many different ways. While the NIV has “if your eyes are healthy” and “if your eyes are unhealthy,” other translations refer to the eyes as being “good” and “bad” or “single” and “evil,” and in various other ways.
Some of the confusion is understandable. The word translated “healthy” in the NIV makes sense as something we might say about an eye, but the word can also be translated as “single” – that is its usual literal meaning. Some have argued that this fits the context in which Jesus is talking about having a single master (vs. 24), but that meaning does not really fit the rest of the passage.
However, there is another possibility we should consider. The Greek word for “healthy” in Matthew 6:22 can imply “generous,” and the word used in verse 23 for “unhealthy” can imply “stingy.” These meanings may seem out of place at first, until we realize that the context of Christ’s statement about our eyes in Matthew 6 is actualy one of money, possessions and treasures. Directly before his statement about the eyes, beginning in verse 19, Jesus instructed his followers to put more value on heavenly treasure than treasure on earth. Directly after what he says about the eyes, beginning in verse 24, he tells us that we cannot serve two masters and that we will end up either loving God or money (“mammon” – as in the KJV – is an Aramaic word for money or other possessions), as we cannot serve and love both.
When we keep this immediate context in mind, what Jesus says about our eyes may well be meant to be understood as referring to a having a “generous” outlook as opposed to a “stingy” outlook. If his comment was made with those meanings, then there is no conflict between the first and second part of his statement; it fits perfectly within the overall theme of putting our religious desires and priorities before our desires for physical possessions and wealth. We should, Jesus tells us, be more concerned about saving treasure in heaven than stingily being unwilling to share what we have on Earth.
Of the various translations of Matthew 6:22-24 that are possible, although one which sees the reference to our eyes as being either “generous” or “stingy” may seem strange at first, these meanings fit the usage of the Greek and fit the context of what Jesus was talking about perfectly. But in any case, our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to maintain the kind of priorities that enable us to look at others not stingily, but with a “generous eye.”