“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” (Luke 11:16-18)
You are not the person people perceive you to be. You have a public self and a private self, and the public self is the one you show to others. The private self you may never show anyone, including your spouse. You may be ashamed of that self, or worried that others will not accept you if they really knew you.
We are this way because of our culture and the circumstances of life. We live in a consumer culture, where we see our identity as how we present ourselves to others. Having sparkly white teeth and a certain body-type becomes a priority over being a person of morals and Christlike character. We believe we are the people we present on the outside because we have been taught that what is on the outside matters. We are taught this by the advertising industry so that we will continue to buy products to improve the image we project to others. There are very few products that target the development of character. It is irrelevant in consumer culture. In fact, it is opposed to it.
The circumstances of life also cause us to hide who we really are. There are many opportunities in our culture to fail horribly, and when we do, we may hide that part of ourselves in fear that we will lose love and respect. We hide addictions, lies, and unfaithfulness to our spouse and others. In time, we may think of ourselves as two different people. “Privacy” is a big value in consumer culture partly because it allows us to hide.
In Luke 11:16-18, Jesus depicts us as lamps; his words are the flame that lights us. Who lights a lamp and then hides it in a clay jar, or under a bed?
I always look in Jesus' parables for the element that is a surprise, because it is usually through that element that Jesus intends to change our hearts. In this parable, the surprise is that a lamp might be lit and then hidden, so that its light cannot be seen. That is not what you do with a lamp, and the question is whether such a lamp is any different than a lamp that is not lit at all. His opening sentence is intended to be a little sarcastic, but it points to a contradiction that was being lived out in the people who listened to him. We live with that contradiction also. Some people receive his words, a spark ignites them, but there is no light.
This is a recurring idea in Jesus' call to discipleship. What matters is not our initial response to his words, but what comes forth over time. Ultimately, if his word truly ignites our lives, that light cannot be hidden. As he says, there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, or concealed that will not be made public. The people we are on the inside—our private selves—must shine forth for his glory. If his word does not set a fire in us, that too will be made clear in time. Our private morals will be exposed. Therefore, Jesus says, “Consider carefully how you listen.” You can hear his words and not let them transform you and shine forth, but what you think you have, he says, will be taken away from you. This is the language of final judgment.
This does not give us the ability to look at other people and judge them, based on how much of God's light we can see. We all go through phases where our lights are dim; my own was for many years. Some people may not be ignited by his words until later in life. This parable is not for us to apply to others, it is for us to apply to ourselves. Have we allowed his words to set fire within us? Has our private self changed? Are those changes visible to the world?
We need to reject whatever is in the public self that blocks the light from shining. We cannot be people who project an image that hides or contradicts the light of Christ within us. We need to repent of whatever is in the inner self that interferes with his words catching fire. We need our public and private selves to be in agreement, so that with our whole being we burn brightly for his glory (Matt. 5:16).
Our private lives will be disclosed. That day will come. When they are revealed, no matter what our past failure, will the words of Jesus be found burning brightly there?