Parable of the Lampstand


Jesus said to the crowd:
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed…..
Lk 8:16-18

In Jesus talking about the lamp, his comments seem to be of such commonsense that his message can almost be glossed over by the reader: Of course people light a lamp so that its light might be seen! The first difficulty with the story though is its name, the parable of the lamp stand. Parables always appear simple on the surface, but require a bit of thought to grasp all their meanings. This story is no different. At first reading his story does make sense, but perhaps there is a more universal meaning: would this be relevant to a blind person? Not if the parable was about light expressed in lumens, but most definitely if light was to be taken as knowledge or enlightenment. Bible readers know that Jesus says “I am the light”, so perhaps the message is about how folks are to receive his gospel message? There is truth there, but probably for an audience a little more advanced in Christianity. When a lampstand is mentioned to a first century Jewish disciple of Jesus, what might be their first thought? A lampstand that would have been most familiar to them easily would have been the Temple Menorah. Its design was given by YHWH to Moses as described in Exodus (25:31-4). A little research reveals that this particular lampstand is indeed a symbol of universal enlightenment. Its shape symbolizes human wisdom expressed by the six lamps pointing inward towards the central lamp that is the symbol of YHWH. Symbolism further describes it as representative of the seven days of creation, and therefore also the cycle of the weeks. It also is symbolic of the burning bush seen by Moses on Mount Horeb. It is a most important lampstand to the Jewish people! Its brightness can penetrate the darkest places. This sacred lamp likely is the one Jesus had in mind when telling his parable. Its symbolism is as relevant to a 21-century Catholic as to a First century Jewish disciple: enlightenment, knowledge, YHWH’s penetrating light and wisdom, creation, renewal. The twist to the story comes when Jesus says “No one who lights a lamp conceals it” This Menorah was used to light up the innermost chamber in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, where only a select few were allowed to enter. Its light was concealed. Perhaps one small interpretation of this story might be a commentary on who should be granted the light that this sacred Menorah represents. Should the God that is described by this light be made available to only a select group of individuals, or should this light be made available to all “so that those who enter may see the light.”

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