Cutting Off the Near Occasions

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus says if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter into eternal life maimed, or crippled, or half-blinded, than with two hands, two feet, and two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna (into hell) forever. There are two mistakes one can make with this gospel teaching. The first mistake is less grave than the other.

This first mistake would be imagining that one’s hand, foot, or eye were the source of your sins. If that were what Jesus meant, how could he think that plucking out just one eye, would be an effective solution? Pretty much any sin you can do with two eyes can be done just as easily with one. No, the Church does not encourage elective amputations because that’s not what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is using hyperbole, over-the-top rhetoric, to vividly drive home an important point.

As much as you enjoy your hand, your foot, or your eye, you can live without them. So if any of these were leading you to your death, you would be a fool not to part ways with it. How much more so is this true for the lesser things people enjoy which lead to spiritual death?

Human beings, for better or worse, are creatures of habit. The sins we commit and the virtues we practice tend to be habitual. So think: is there a person, setting, or thing that often leads you to sin? Whom do you sin with? Where and when do you sin? What object, substance, or technology do you sin with often? Jesus knows that you know your pattern of weakness and sin, or that you could easily recognize your pattern with a little self-reflection, and he wants you to take this issue seriously. For the love of God who loves you, for the good of your own soul and the souls of others, curtail in your life the near occasions of sin or, even better, cut them out entirely. Make a firm resolution, make a conscious renunciation, make a good confession, and begin better living the life Jesus wills for you.

Now here is the second, graver mistake people make with Jesus’ teaching. Since Jesus uses hyperbolic imagery about chopping off body parts some think that he isn’t being serious about the dangers of hell. Yes, Jesus uses symbolic imagery to describe it, but hell is very real.

Gehenna, for instance, was a valley southwest of Jerusalem, just outside the walls of God’s holy city. It had once been the site of pagan temples where children were offered as holocausts to idols of Baal and Moloch. The Jews went on to use that shameful place as a smoldering garbage dump, with rotten, worm-infested refuse and continuously burning trash. Will there be literal fire in hell? Maybe not. We would not say hell must have “undying worms” for Jesus’ teachings to be true. But fire does speak to great agony and worms to corruption.

In Jesus’ parable of the royal wedding guests, the king finds a man unfit for his feast. The king says to his servants, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Wailing accompanies despair and the grinding of teeth, violent anger. As light is to vision and wisdom, the outer darkness is to blindness and error – error which is not innocent ignorance but falsehood blamefully embraced.

In that parable, the condemned one is utterly bound, hand and foot, and thrown out. Yet in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, the condemned go off on their own. Christ tells us that when he returns as king he will sit upon his glorious throne and turn to the unrighteous goats on his left and say, “Depart from me, you accursed…” And these, he tells us, “will go off to eternal punishment.” Hell is their sentence, but hell is also what they have freely chosen.

Grave sin, freely and knowingly chosen, is a rejection of the Kingdom of God. Mortal sin rejects Christ’s Way; it rejects the life of heaven. This decision to stray is ours, but the decision to respond to God’s grace and return is ours as well.

People today assume almost everybody is going to heaven, but the early Church Fathers were far less optimistic. Whether the number who will be saved in the end is a majority or a minority of the human race, I want all of you to make it. So please take Christ’s words to you seriously. Repent of your sins and change your ways. This is Jesus’ loving will for you.

One Response to “Cutting Off the Near Occasions”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Yes, it is worth making great sacrifices to align our lives with the Kingdom of Heaven.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: