If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30
These are harsh words for the ‘Jesus only meek and mild’ crowd. Here’s Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, telling people, “mutilating yourselves is better than giving in to temptation,” right? Not really. Jesus isn’t actually telling us to mutilate ourselves. He’s simply saying that it would be preferable for us to be disfigured yet blameless in our most humble moments before God than to be even a little bit sinful on our best day here on planet Earth. Using similar language, in Mark and Luke, Jesus talks about how it would be better to be maimed than to cause someone else to sin.
That matters because there’s bigger message, an underlying one, that Jesus is conveying here. In several of his books, the Apostle Paul segues off of Jesus’ message by saying that it is preferable to be personally harmed than to lead someone else into sin. Our sins affect others; our sins can cause others’. For this reason, we should refrain from things that would draw others into sin.
I think about that in terms of the adultery that Jesus is denouncing in this section of Matthew. It has been twenty years since I first strayed, and if I could take it all back, go back and change what I said and did, even if it cost my life, I would. I would give anything to take away the hurt I caused my wife and family, to restore our relationship to a better place than it was before. And the woman’s family, and her aggrieved former husband: I’d give anything to give them back their home-life. No matter what we felt at the time, I can’t excuse what we did, what I caused. It was wrong; I was wrong. I would gladly gouge out my eye, or cut off my hand, if it would change that hurt. I’d do it for any of them.
And still, even this is forgiven. Jesus paid for it all. Good Friday sealed it; Easter proved it. When the guilt rises up, Jesus is within me saying, “let it go. I forgave everything.” In fact, holding on to it is another sin. Jesus takes them all away. That makes coping possible. He made a better way, so that the sins of our past don’t need to define or maim us any further. Before the Lord, because of Him, we’re whole.
For more reading: Mark 9:42-47, Luke 17:2, Romans 14:21, 1 Corinthians 8:13, 2 Corinthians 6:3, 2 Corinthians 11:29, Matthew 5:31
Father, forgive me all my sins.