Evil eyes

As you will have noticed, I am interested in language, idioms, figures of speech, and imagery.  Our pastor’s sermon, which is worth reading in its entirety, looked at a Biblical expression that is usually translated away.  Rev. Douthwaite was preaching on Matthew 20:1-16, the parable about how the laborers were all getting paid the same, even though some worked longer than others, and told the Master that he was being unfair:

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? Now, those last words there are a bit of a paraphrase. The original puts it like this: Or is your eye evil because I am good? That gives us a bit more to work with here, especially because just a couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus say: And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9).

Now, usually – and as I talked about that in the sermon two weeks ago – we usually think of “our eyes causing us to sin” in terms of seeing things we should not see. And a common example of that are the sexually-charged images all around us in the world today – in movies, on TV, and in advertising – stirring up lustful and impure thoughts in our hearts. And that’s certainly true. But here today, Jesus is, perhaps, giving us another way to think about that: that the “evil eye” we need to beware of is not just what goes into our eyes, but – in a sense – what comes out of them. How we look at other people. How we look at God. Do we give them, and God, an “evil eye?”

That’s what those disgruntled workers in the vineyard were doing. They were giving an “evil eye” to the owner’s generosity and their fellow workers’ good fortune. And this “evil eye” perhaps caused them to resent their fellow workers, and certainly to resent the owner. He was wrong. He was unfair. He was . . . evil.

And that is the danger for you and me today. A constant danger. That we will look at others and their life and what they have received with an “evil eye,” thinking them unworthy, magnifying their sin, and resenting the good they have received. Then that we will look at ourselves, and with an “evil eye” think more highly of ourselves than we ought, belittle our sins, and think that we have deserved better. And then that we will finally look at God with an “evil eye” and judge Him! That He is wrong. That He is unfair. That He is not giving as He should. That He is . . . not good.

You’ve thought that. I know you have. For that’s what’s behind all of our “why” questions. When we ask: Why me, Lord? when something bad happens to us. When we ask: Why him and not me, Lord? when something good happens for someone else. Why did you do that, Lord? Are there not judgments in those questions? An implication that something is not right, not fair, not deserved?

And so we need to repent. And learn to see with “good” eyes, God eyes, faith eyes, eyes that have been renewed by the Gospel. And it is not impossible to do so. For while what the prophet Isaiah says is true: that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways, our Lord has given you His Word and Spirit, that you might know His thoughts and ways; that you know His goodness toward you, and learn to see with new eyes, good eyes, Gospel eyes.

Those eyes do not look at others and what they have. They do not look at ourselves and what we don’t have. They don’t look into heaven and try to figure out what God is doing and why. Gospel eyes look to the cross.

For there is where we see most of all that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. For there we see the one who truly bore the burden of the work and the heat of the day. There we see that with God there is no negotiating or re-negotiating, but the 100% unadulterated harshness of the Law, and the 100% pure sweetness of the Gospel. And that it cannot be any other way.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 14 Sermon.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    Great application preaching, pastor D. Keep up the Greek work!

  • Dan Kempin

    Great application preaching, pastor D. Keep up the Greek work!

  • Rose

    Here’s another application of “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”: Charitable tax deductions are under attack by radicals who think the government should confiscate more of our income and be the one to distribute it to the poor.

  • Rose

    Here’s another application of “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”: Charitable tax deductions are under attack by radicals who think the government should confiscate more of our income and be the one to distribute it to the poor.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    We don’t like it when God uses His math.

    We have our own (less gracious) calculator.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    We don’t like it when God uses His math.

    We have our own (less gracious) calculator.

  • helen

    The landlord didn’t pay all the laborers equal wages beause he could deduct them from his taxes.
    Christ is teaching the economics of His kingdom where the deathbed believer will receive heaven beside the ‘baptized at birth’.

    Charitable tax deductions will go, under the guise of “a more equal tax rate” . The tax rate will never be equal because those who “lay house to house, field to field” are insatiable, but the attack on the church (which is at the root of the attack on charitable deductions) will have succeeded.
    Christians will have to help their neighbor because he needs it, not because they can get a “rebate.”

    Thank you for the discussion of the omitted phrase, Dr. Veith. Translations “which make things more clear”, supposedly, often have a price in imagery and associated meaning. This morning’s Memorial Moments includes Psalm 27 where the KJV “tabernacle” is translated in ESV as “tent”. It is no doubt literal; the house of God before the temple was built was a tent, albeit an elaborate one. But to use “tent” in the Psalm removes that imagery of the house of God and the 4o years wandering and replaces it with a mental picture of a Boy Scout camp, or a primitive weekend trip.

    Is it really necessary, to understand our religion, to strip it of every word not in daily use in a sixth grader’s vocabulary? How will the sixth grader’s vocabulary ever expand in a literate direction? Will everyday speech be reduced to a few dozen expletives which we hear and read all too often? (A “few dozen” may overestimate the range of it.)

  • helen

    The landlord didn’t pay all the laborers equal wages beause he could deduct them from his taxes.
    Christ is teaching the economics of His kingdom where the deathbed believer will receive heaven beside the ‘baptized at birth’.

    Charitable tax deductions will go, under the guise of “a more equal tax rate” . The tax rate will never be equal because those who “lay house to house, field to field” are insatiable, but the attack on the church (which is at the root of the attack on charitable deductions) will have succeeded.
    Christians will have to help their neighbor because he needs it, not because they can get a “rebate.”

    Thank you for the discussion of the omitted phrase, Dr. Veith. Translations “which make things more clear”, supposedly, often have a price in imagery and associated meaning. This morning’s Memorial Moments includes Psalm 27 where the KJV “tabernacle” is translated in ESV as “tent”. It is no doubt literal; the house of God before the temple was built was a tent, albeit an elaborate one. But to use “tent” in the Psalm removes that imagery of the house of God and the 4o years wandering and replaces it with a mental picture of a Boy Scout camp, or a primitive weekend trip.

    Is it really necessary, to understand our religion, to strip it of every word not in daily use in a sixth grader’s vocabulary? How will the sixth grader’s vocabulary ever expand in a literate direction? Will everyday speech be reduced to a few dozen expletives which we hear and read all too often? (A “few dozen” may overestimate the range of it.)

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    Our pastor preached on this text as well. He made it a sermon on vocation. Since there was clearly a disconnect between the work done in the vineyard and the wages received, there was something else going on here. The text spoke about how generously the landlord had blessed the laborers: The landlord had called the otherwise idle people to work in the vineyard. Was this not a blessing and a privilege in and of itself? Oh yes, and the laborers all received exactly what was promised. We were encouraged to labor joyfully in our ‘vineyard’ because it too is a gift of God.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    Our pastor preached on this text as well. He made it a sermon on vocation. Since there was clearly a disconnect between the work done in the vineyard and the wages received, there was something else going on here. The text spoke about how generously the landlord had blessed the laborers: The landlord had called the otherwise idle people to work in the vineyard. Was this not a blessing and a privilege in and of itself? Oh yes, and the laborers all received exactly what was promised. We were encouraged to labor joyfully in our ‘vineyard’ because it too is a gift of God.

  • fws

    rose @ 2

    Charitable tax deductions support alot of evil religions. I would be really happy to have them all stripped away and I would be also perfectly happy to strip away ALL priviledges from churches and non profits such as removing the power of pastors to marry, property tax exemptions (churchs do call the fire department) etc.
    So there is another way to look at all that Rose.

    And then so called conservatives resent it when the government takes its money and gives more of it to the poor.

  • fws

    rose @ 2

    Charitable tax deductions support alot of evil religions. I would be really happy to have them all stripped away and I would be also perfectly happy to strip away ALL priviledges from churches and non profits such as removing the power of pastors to marry, property tax exemptions (churchs do call the fire department) etc.
    So there is another way to look at all that Rose.

    And then so called conservatives resent it when the government takes its money and gives more of it to the poor.

  • fws

    And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9).

    why could i not argue here that the Lutheran Confessions are wrong? It does appear that what WE do is what can make the difference as to our eternity.

    This seems to say that it is what we can do or not do that has eternal consequences. The Confessions say that there is nothing we do in our bodies that have eternal consequences if I am reading them correctly. Maybe our confessions are guilty of gnosticism?

  • fws

    And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9).

    why could i not argue here that the Lutheran Confessions are wrong? It does appear that what WE do is what can make the difference as to our eternity.

    This seems to say that it is what we can do or not do that has eternal consequences. The Confessions say that there is nothing we do in our bodies that have eternal consequences if I am reading them correctly. Maybe our confessions are guilty of gnosticism?

  • Dan Kempin

    Fws, #7,

    Heh heh!

  • Dan Kempin

    Fws, #7,

    Heh heh!

  • DrJoan

    These unhappy laborers would LOVE Obama’s principles!

  • DrJoan

    These unhappy laborers would LOVE Obama’s principles!

  • –helen

    fws @ 7
    This seems to say that it is what we can do or not do that has eternal consequences.

    We cannot do anything to earn our salvation. Even our faith is a gift from God. So Scripture says and the Confessions echo it.

    But we can do evil and refuse His gifts! In that way we can end up in Hell, not because God “elected” us to go there, but because we chose to go that way ourselves.

  • –helen

    fws @ 7
    This seems to say that it is what we can do or not do that has eternal consequences.

    We cannot do anything to earn our salvation. Even our faith is a gift from God. So Scripture says and the Confessions echo it.

    But we can do evil and refuse His gifts! In that way we can end up in Hell, not because God “elected” us to go there, but because we chose to go that way ourselves.

  • fws

    helen @7

    Ok Helen, that sounds plausible and ok. So then does that mean that we cant do anything to win our salvation, but that staying in the faith and not losing it depends in part on our doing or avoiding doing something?

  • fws

    helen @7

    Ok Helen, that sounds plausible and ok. So then does that mean that we cant do anything to win our salvation, but that staying in the faith and not losing it depends in part on our doing or avoiding doing something?

  • –helen

    If we claim to be Christians, we should try to go by the Book, fws.
    Note that I said “TRY” because even St Paul bemoaned the fact that he sinned though he did not want to do so.
    But he was repentant, as we need to be.

    Deliberate sinning without remorse, or claiming that your sin is not sin, is dangerous to the soul, according to all I have been taught.
    To bring it home, I find that forgiving some individuals (who are not repentant, btw) is very difficult, and yet we are supposed to do that.
    [Christ died for us all, before we believed.]
    So I have to repent of not being sufficiently forgiving…..

  • –helen

    If we claim to be Christians, we should try to go by the Book, fws.
    Note that I said “TRY” because even St Paul bemoaned the fact that he sinned though he did not want to do so.
    But he was repentant, as we need to be.

    Deliberate sinning without remorse, or claiming that your sin is not sin, is dangerous to the soul, according to all I have been taught.
    To bring it home, I find that forgiving some individuals (who are not repentant, btw) is very difficult, and yet we are supposed to do that.
    [Christ died for us all, before we believed.]
    So I have to repent of not being sufficiently forgiving…..

  • fws

    helen @ 12

    Ok. that is all very good. especial where you repent even of not repenting!

    But that doesnt really answer my question does it? And that is this one: Does our remaining in the faith depend in any way on what we do or avoid doing? And if so how?

    Thanks!

  • fws

    helen @ 12

    Ok. that is all very good. especial where you repent even of not repenting!

    But that doesnt really answer my question does it? And that is this one: Does our remaining in the faith depend in any way on what we do or avoid doing? And if so how?

    Thanks!

  • Joanne

    The evil eye first came into foreground for me back in the 1980s when a good friend recommended Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria quartet (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea). There was one particular scene where Egyptian children made blue hand prints on white walls to ward off the evil eye.
    Then I learned that the color blue was generally good for warding off evil. That the blue porch ceilings I’d see throughout my childhood, which had always covered entranceways, “kept the haints out.” Who knew?
    I learned that blue eyes were the evil eye’s best friend. Evil eye cultures are predominantly brown eye cultures (the eastern Mediterranean) and the rare blue eyed person must be avoided because it is very easy to get the evil eye from a blue eye.
    Then, years later, forgetting all this, I spent a month, November, in Lacadaemon, mostly snooping around the ruins of Mystras. We had landed in Athens at midnight and fled the city as if it were on fire by way of the ring freeway, not so much as stopping at a traffic light. We awoke the next morning in Arcadia, made the pass over the Parnon range and descended into the valley of the Eurotas with the massive bulk of Taiytos blocking out a full third of the western sky.
    It took us a few days but we found a lovely boutique hotel out of season, we were the only guests most of the month. The Vale of Sparta is not a major tourist destination, and then mostly a day trip, there are few accommodations, compared to Myconos or Thera or Criti. We had lots more interactions with the locals than with other tourists.
    Maria was the manager/concierge and the leader of a staff of perfectly trained good workers with only two old ladies to wait upon. There are good things about being the only two quests in a small boutique hotel, and bad things. You get a lot of service, you get A LOT of service.
    Anyway, about the third week into our visit, Maria and I are great pals, we’ve met Maria’s small son, Mihailly, and pretty much know each others families. The hotel owners’ sister and her husband have come down from Athens for a weekend and fixed a dinner for us. They are in television news, great food, great conversation.
    Anyway, one quiet afternoon, Maria catches me relaxing and asks me do I believe in the evil eye. Yikes, where did that come from? She knows I’m religious and that I’ve attended Liturgy every Sunday. I start to say, of course not, that in Jesus love for us, his children, there is no room for the evil eye. But something in Maria’s tone holds me back, it tells me she means to tell me something by this question, so I ask her why she asks, as I really don’t know much about the “eye.”
    Maria needed to tell us that over complimenting, speaking too well of things, but especially of children, could unintentionally put the evil eye on the child. In essence, a person, such as an ignorant foreigner with blue eyes, could, without knowledge or even belief in such things, put the evil eye on a child/baby, simply by admiring it too much. Which of course we had done several days before when we were introduced to Mihailly, which Maria was very careful not to mention.
    Well, this was a totally new concept to me. I had always assumed knowledge and intent in giving the evil eye. The idea that one could accidentally, with no intent give the evil eye, and especially to babies, I was floored, my mouth was agape and Maria could see it.
    She hastened to give me the proper talismanic saying which I now find I have forgotten, but you say it 3 times and Panayeea is in it and the eye will be blocked. What a relief! I am so glad that I do not believe in the evil eye and that Jesus blocks that evil from me. But, when you enter a culture where such beliefs are very real and can end relationships and cause hard feelings in a heartbeat, that’s when the work of Jesus against evil gets up close and very real.

  • Joanne

    The evil eye first came into foreground for me back in the 1980s when a good friend recommended Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria quartet (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea). There was one particular scene where Egyptian children made blue hand prints on white walls to ward off the evil eye.
    Then I learned that the color blue was generally good for warding off evil. That the blue porch ceilings I’d see throughout my childhood, which had always covered entranceways, “kept the haints out.” Who knew?
    I learned that blue eyes were the evil eye’s best friend. Evil eye cultures are predominantly brown eye cultures (the eastern Mediterranean) and the rare blue eyed person must be avoided because it is very easy to get the evil eye from a blue eye.
    Then, years later, forgetting all this, I spent a month, November, in Lacadaemon, mostly snooping around the ruins of Mystras. We had landed in Athens at midnight and fled the city as if it were on fire by way of the ring freeway, not so much as stopping at a traffic light. We awoke the next morning in Arcadia, made the pass over the Parnon range and descended into the valley of the Eurotas with the massive bulk of Taiytos blocking out a full third of the western sky.
    It took us a few days but we found a lovely boutique hotel out of season, we were the only guests most of the month. The Vale of Sparta is not a major tourist destination, and then mostly a day trip, there are few accommodations, compared to Myconos or Thera or Criti. We had lots more interactions with the locals than with other tourists.
    Maria was the manager/concierge and the leader of a staff of perfectly trained good workers with only two old ladies to wait upon. There are good things about being the only two quests in a small boutique hotel, and bad things. You get a lot of service, you get A LOT of service.
    Anyway, about the third week into our visit, Maria and I are great pals, we’ve met Maria’s small son, Mihailly, and pretty much know each others families. The hotel owners’ sister and her husband have come down from Athens for a weekend and fixed a dinner for us. They are in television news, great food, great conversation.
    Anyway, one quiet afternoon, Maria catches me relaxing and asks me do I believe in the evil eye. Yikes, where did that come from? She knows I’m religious and that I’ve attended Liturgy every Sunday. I start to say, of course not, that in Jesus love for us, his children, there is no room for the evil eye. But something in Maria’s tone holds me back, it tells me she means to tell me something by this question, so I ask her why she asks, as I really don’t know much about the “eye.”
    Maria needed to tell us that over complimenting, speaking too well of things, but especially of children, could unintentionally put the evil eye on the child. In essence, a person, such as an ignorant foreigner with blue eyes, could, without knowledge or even belief in such things, put the evil eye on a child/baby, simply by admiring it too much. Which of course we had done several days before when we were introduced to Mihailly, which Maria was very careful not to mention.
    Well, this was a totally new concept to me. I had always assumed knowledge and intent in giving the evil eye. The idea that one could accidentally, with no intent give the evil eye, and especially to babies, I was floored, my mouth was agape and Maria could see it.
    She hastened to give me the proper talismanic saying which I now find I have forgotten, but you say it 3 times and Panayeea is in it and the eye will be blocked. What a relief! I am so glad that I do not believe in the evil eye and that Jesus blocks that evil from me. But, when you enter a culture where such beliefs are very real and can end relationships and cause hard feelings in a heartbeat, that’s when the work of Jesus against evil gets up close and very real.


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