We often associate the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost with the images in Acts 2: violent winds, tongues of fire, and people speaking in tongues. I’d like to add one more image to that list: good eyes. Let me explain.
Pentecost and Thanksgiving
In the Old Testament, Pentecost is known as “The Feast of Weeks,” or Shavuot in Hebrew. It is one of the major festivals God instituted to demonstrate his goodness and generosity to his people. Observed each year 50 days (seven weeks) after Passover, it highlighted the salvific event that set God’s people free from their enslavement to Egypt. On Pentecost, the Jews were given the Torah and became a people committed to serving God. Pentecost also marked the all-important and jubilant wheat harvest in the land of Israel. Pilgrims would travel to the temple in Jerusalem; there joyful crowds would congregate, bringing their offerings of wheat to the temple and celebrating the good harvest God had given.
Pentecost and Generosity to the Poor
In Leviticus 23, God gave specific instructions regarding offerings to God of wheat, firstfruits, and sacrifices on Pentecost. But what I find unusual and interesting is that God adds an obscure commandment as to how his people must celebrate Pentecost: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God’” (Lev. 23:22).
Rabbis would teach that true thankfulness to God was best shown by giving to people in the village who were marginalized. So when the grain was harvested, the corners of the field were left standing to be gleaned by people who were hungry. We do not know how widely this command was actually practiced in the Old Testament; evidence suggests that many Jews took a legalistic approach in working it out. According to teacher and biblical historian Ray Vander Laan, some Jews would come to the rabbis and ask just how big the corners of their harvesting fields should be!
Jesus’ Sermon Revisited
Jesus seemed to know what was going through these folks’ minds. In Matthew 6, he taught first-century Jews how they should be grateful to God and look after the poor and the aliens in their midst.
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in good Reformed style, makes three points. First, in verses 19 to 21, he talks about how we are to regard money and possessions. Jesus is stating what we already know: that money has power over us; we worship it with our hearts. And in his third point (v. 24), he challenges us to choose either God or money as the ultimate object of our worship. But it’s Jesus’ second sermon point that especially caught my attention: “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 not good your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (vv. 22-23). Why was he talking about the eye here? This is where his sermon became confusing to me.
For the longest time, Jesus’ teaching on money did not make sense to me—at least, not entirely.
Nonetheless, what became obvious to me was that Jesus was using a literary technique called “chiasm.” One way of understanding it is something like this: Imagine there are three movements in a story, as in A-B-C. If “A” and “C” mirror each other, then “B” is the key that unlocks the meaning of “A” and “C.” In this case, the meaning of verses 22-23 in Jesus’ sermon is pivotal for understanding his teaching on God and money. Those verses about “good eyes” are the key!
Then, back in 2004, I visited Israel with Ray VanderLaan on a study tour, and the penny dropped. He explained that the phrase “your eyes are good” is a Jewish slang term describing someone who is generous toward the poor. In the first century, if you left large corners of the field unharvested for people who were poor, or foreigners, or orphans or widows, your neighbors would say of you, “His eyes are good!”
Back to Jesus’ sermon. Once you and I experience divine generosity, that is to say, once we realize that Jesus became poor so that we may become rich, then we are able to overcome the power of money and choose to serve God as the object of worship in our hearts. We will know this transformation is taking place when we are able to show generosity to the poor.
And then, after the Day of Pentecost, it happened.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 2:42-45).
The promise of Shavuot is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He has kindled the fire of his Holy Spirit in the hearts of his disciples to continue the joy and generosity of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus Christ were not only able and willing to leave the corners of their fields unharvested, but they sold the entire fields for the widows, orphans, and the aliens among them.
The joy and celebration of the harvest continues to this day. We too should sing with tongues of fire and dance in the violent winds because the Holy Spirit has been given to us. We should be filled with the Holy Spirit and live out Acts 2 in our communities, schools, workplaces, and various spheres of influence.
Now that the Holy Spirit is residing in us, shouldn’t we practice hospitality by inviting our neighbors for coffee and dessert and rediscover the art of neighboring? For hospitable people are generous with their space. Shouldn’t we volunteer at organizations that promote the shalom of God, so that we may bring about his justice and compassion in our cities and neighborhoods? For hospitable people are generous with their time. Shouldn’t we joyfully and sacrificially practice the celebration of the tithe? For hospitable people are generous with their money.
The real question is: “Will your friends and neighbors say about you, “She’s got got good eyes”?
- Prior to reading this article, what were your thoughts about Pentecost and its meaning or significance for us?
- What did you think Jesus meant by “good eyes” in Matthew 6:22-23?
- What are some ways in which “the power of money” might tempt us to stray from God’s ways for us?
- If “true thankfulness to God was best shown by giving to people in the village who were marginalized,” how might we show our thankfulness for God’s generosity in our world today?
- What other ways can our churches intentionally cultivate “good eyes” among their members?