Christians of all backgrounds, denominations and affiliations agree: Jesus’ instructions here are not meant to be taken literally. (I’ve never encountered a Christian who has gouged out his eye or cut off his hand, and suspect I never will). We agree to interpret this verse symbolically. Doing so, then, requires us to then unwrap the symbolism. What on earth is Jesus talking about, and how should we apply this to our lives?
This is relatively simple. Jesus isn’t talking about the removal of sin, He’s talking about the removal of things that cause us to sin. Is there anything inherently wrong with an eye or a hand? Of course not, if there were, He would simply say “cut off your right hand and gouge out your right eye, God doesn’t like them.”
But there’s not and He doesn’t. What He’s saying is this: if there’s anything in your life that causes you to systematically commit serious sin in your life, get rid of it. Even if it’s an otherwise good or necessary part of your life; if it causes you to sin gravely, it could be endangering your very soul! Do not, under any circumstances, allow such a thing to keep you from Heaven. You’re better off without it.
If the well-paying job that you’re in is forcing you into unethical or even illegal behaviour – quit. If you have a gambling addiction and live within walking distance of a casino – move. If a friendship of yours seems to be heading in the direction of an extramarital affair – terminate the friendship.
And here’s another one which, I’m afraid, is going to cause me to lose readers (so be it): if your political activities are causing you to hate and dehumanize your enemies, cut them out, immediately. Politics are by definition temporary; you won’t need them in the Kingdom of Heaven. If they are leading you into unChristlike behaviour, trash them, before they ruin you.
I’ve encountered too many Christians on social media who gleefully and easily heap scorn, derision and spite on enemies both real and perceived. Regardless of whether they’re on the Right or the Left side of the political spectrum, it’s as if, in that moment, they couldn’t care less about Christ’s teachings on love, forgiveness and grace. “Love your enemies” becomes mere advice that we are free to disregard, due (I suppose?) to the quality of our enemies.
But know this, it’s one thing to lose your temper, to forget yourself, to lose a battle with the flesh, it’s another thing altogether to make a willful decision to disobey the clear teachings of Christ. You are under orders to love your enemies; you are under orders to pray for them. If you deliberately refuse these orders, you are not recognizable as His disciple. We all fail in executing His commands, but we don’t get to refuse them. That option is not presented to a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, we all struggle with the flesh. We all experience moments where we’re shocked to find hatred, contempt, lust, greed, and all sorts of ugly things in our hearts. We pray that you forgive us our sinful natures, cause us to repent, and create in us cleaner and cleaner hearts. Teach us to love our enemies – make it so we want to love our enemies. Renew a right spirit within us. Amen.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.