“If you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
What sorrow awaits the world because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So, if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (New Living Translation)
It’s probably a good idea not to get on the wrong side of Jesus.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus utilized a variety of teaching methods to communicate his message. In today’s Gospel lesson, Christ used the language of hyperbole to arrest attention and get his point across.
A universal truism of this world is that sin exists. In Holy Scripture, sin is anything people do or say – or fail to do and say – which damages or destroys another’s or one self’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.
Greed, envy, gluttony, sloth, anger, lust, and pride abound no matter where one goes on this planet. Sin is downright awful. It causes people to stumble, and, when unchecked, leads to personal and corporate chaos, unrest, and destruction.
Whenever sin is viewed merely as a character flaw, or simply part of the fabric of organizations and institutions, then hellfire is not far off. Hell exists because of sin.
We get the flavor that Jesus took sin quite serious. Christ considers sin so terrible and heinous that he deliberately used the height of hyperbole to communicate that radical, drastic, and decisive action must unequivocally be taken to get rid of it.
The Lord Jesus wanted there to be no mistake in his communication: Sin is not something to dabble in or take a shallow approach; rather, sin must be eradicated, at all costs. The language is severe: If your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter life crippled or blind rather than be thrown into a suffering hell.
Temptations will inevitably come. Yet, how we handle those temptations and what we do with them is of eternal significance.
We must get to the root of the sin – which happens through succumbing to temptation – and re-arrange our lives, alter our schedules, and change our lives in a radical way to remove putting ourselves in a position to sin.
Solid daily spiritual habits of Scripture reading and prayer; time for sleep and rest; attention to Sabbath; and a regular exercise regimen are all ways to help ensure that temptation will not win the day.
And God forbid that we cause another to sin because we are hangry, tired, and out of shape because we’ve neglected ourselves for far too long. Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Other people get hurt when we hurt ourselves.
If we take the words of Jesus to heart, perhaps we will gain awareness of the ways we need to metaphorically cut off a hand or gouge out an eye. For many people, this means learning to say “no.”
There doesn’t always need to be an explanation for assertively and courteously saying the word “no.” If an explanation is warranted, it should be brief. The word “no” doesn’t mean we are selfish pricks trying to wriggle out of responsibility. “No” simply realizes we are finite creatures with limited time, energy, and resources. Unlike God, we cannot do it all.
Setting personal boundaries is both wise and necessary. Without them, we let others chain us in bondage to their agendas. A lack of personal boundaries also typically means that the boundary-less person continually violates others’ boundaries. Since there are no fences in their own lives, they feel they can hop anybody else’s fence in front of them.
Violating someone’s space through mental or emotional manipulation, spiritual abuse, or bodily harm is sin. Jesus wants radical action to deal with such offense of others.
For the Christian, priority must be given to saying “yes” to Jesus, which then allows a “no” to come when there are competing priorities. A person unclear on their values and priorities will chronically violate others. If you have a specific plan of doing the will of God before being confronted with another person’s request, you’re more likely to stick to your original plan.
Jesus continually said “yes” to the Father. This framed and formed his earthly life so that he crossed social boundaries to speak to a Samaritan woman, a tax collector, and a leper – while maintaining the respect of another’s personal boundary by asking if they want to be helped and healed.
Sin is horrible – which is why Jesus went to the ultimate length to deal with it. He sacrificed himself and suffered an ignominious death so that sin’s power would be crushed, so that you and I could say “no” to temptation.
Holy God, you sent your Son to this earth to deal decisively with the world’s sin. I choose today to walk in the forgiveness you offer through Jesus, and to avail myself of the Spirit’s power to forsake temptation in all its forms. Amen.