“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out….” “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” The ministers will distribute knives, scissors, and bowls so that anyone who feels that they have to remove body parts can do so now. What a bloody mess we would be!
Each of us can find a part of the Gospel that resonates with our behavior. The admonishment is serious. Jesus was talking to folks who claimed to abide by the law but had found loopholes to excuse their sins. For every law there are a million exceptions. “You shall not kill.” We are familiar with the Commandment. People often say, “At least I haven’t killed anyone.” Yet, how many have we killed with our words, our gossip, our indifference? How many people have we wished were dead? There are several ways to destroy someone. Obviously the interpretation that Jesus gave of the Commandment is different from the surface meaning. The listeners might have walked away because we all get angry with each other. We call each other bad names. When we feel someone has hurt us, we tend to hold grudges. Jesus put a big stop sign and said, “Can’t do that. Being angry is just as serious as killing.” “Don’t even dare to approach the Altar—first go be reconciled—that’s more important—then come back and worship.” We can imagine the listeners thoughts, “He’s talking about the mean folks, the cut throats, the notorious sinners.” “Because we’re not bad people. Arguing, yelling at each other, not speaking to your spouse is normal—part of every marriage.” Not according to the Gospel. Speaking of marriage… “You shall not commit adultery.” Pretty popular sin, even today. Adultery is having sexual intercourse with a person who is married to someone else.
But Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Which doesn’t mean that it’s OK for the women to look at the men with the same kind of lust. And it’s not just the right eye or the right hand that get us in trouble. The left eye and the left hand might be just as guilty. However, if we took the Gospel literally, there would be nothing left. We’d have to cut off everything! None of our body moves without our willingness. Most of our actions are voluntary.
There are no valid excuses for sin. Excuses like, “The devil made me do it. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Peer pressure was too strong.” Temptation never goes away. However, we can relax about the looking part. Don’t think that Jesus intended for us to pluck our eyes out just because we appreciate the way another person looks. Trouble comes when we want to possess. A recommendation is to pray with the distraction. When we see an attractive person all we have to do is praise God. “Thank you Lord for making such a beautiful creature.” The temptation goes away since we are no longer thinking about our appetite, but we are thinking about giving thanks to God. Jesus knew that we would be tempted. He also knew that we would get angry. Therefore, He gave us a way out—a healing remedy—forgiveness. “Go first and be reconciled, then come offer your gift.” Once we forgive we are no longer dominated by the anger. When the anger is not at the center of our thoughts, then we know that we’ve let go. Some grievances take a long time to heal, especially if the hurt was deep. If we truly want to forgive someone, then the Lord will grant us the necessary grace. We are grateful to God that we do not have to follow the Gospel literally. Our actions must stand in the light of the Gospel.
If we are ashamed, if we want to hide, if the Gospel makes us feel uncomfortable—then we have to change. God’s mercy is more powerful than all of our sins. Here we are accepted, healed and forgiven.