Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Exodus 34:18-35, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13, Matthew 5:27-37
One of the challenges of being an original disciple of Christ might have been figuring out when Jesus wanted to be taken literally, and when he was exaggerating to make a point. The book of Acts and the letters of Paul don’t tell any stories of one-handed, one-eyed evangelists, so they seem to have assumed the latter when he said: “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” and “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.”
Jesus was not advocating self-mutilation.
He was telling us to remove from our lives anything that leads us toward sin and away from God. His choice of imagery tells us this process may be painful, and that we may be called to separate ourselves from things we hold dear. If “it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell,” surely we can examine our own lives for obstacles we need to remove.
Maybe we need to free ourselves from an addiction. Or maybe our words are wicked with gossip. Is there a relationship we prioritize above our faith? Do we love the sound of jingling coins too much to give them away? Tongues, loins, ears … Jesus could have used any body parts to make his point that no matter how painful it seems in the short term, we must give up things – no matter how treasured or vital they seem – that hold us back from entering fully into the life he offers.
Christ isn’t condemning us for every errant thought or desire, which would be impossible to eliminate; rather he is asking us to be accountable for our own intentions, which we are quite capable of examining and controlling. Every bad habit and unhealthy behavior we lop off makes room for a more abundant life. When our spirits are unburdened, our hands, feet, and eyes – all our parts – are unlikely to betray us. As backwards as it may seem, sometimes we must cut parts away to find wholeness.
Comfort: Jesus doesn’t ask us to do the impossible …
Challenge: … but sometimes he asks us to do the difficult and unpleasant.
Prayer: Lord, take from me what you must, so you may give me what I need. Amen.
Discussion: What have you prioritized above your relationship with God?
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