Last Sunday, the assigned gospel lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary included this happy line along with orders to remove your feet and eyes if they cause you to sin, as well. Jesus is commanding his followers to remove sources of sin and evil in their lives, but as far as I know, no one has ever taken this passage literally and maimed themselves in the name of holiness. (Which is good!)
But the more I thought about this passage, the more I think we carry that out in ways that may not be literal, but are still destructive and unhealthy.
I was thinking about it while watching the news of our politicians belittling each other or calling each other unAmerican, hateful, or even evil.
I was thinking about it in Bible study where people shared stories of being rejected or shamed by someone in the Church sometime in their past.
I was thinking about it in conversations where people talk about unfriending loved ones or removing themselves from from a social circle because of a disagreement about politics or religion.
And I was thinking that far too often (especially in this divided age of history), we see the sources of sin and evil in our lives as other people. Jesus warns about the evils within ourselves, but instead, we attempt to amputate the people we think are problems.
This is the very problem Jesus is addressing in this passage, which begins with his disciples saying, "There was someone healing in your name, but he wasn't one of us, so we told him to get lost." That person was different. He was a problem. We had to get rid of him.
But Jesus says, "No." And then he talks about hands and feet and eyes as a way of saying, "Don't look for evil in other people without seeing it in yourself, too." Whenever we silence, ignore, cast off, or dehumanize others because of differences, we fail to be faithful to Jesus. Whenever we see people as bad instead of their actions or words, we are likely ignoring the faults within ourselves.
Sadly, history is filled with examples of people attempting to cut off those they saw as a problem by silencing, alienating, or even killing them. We've seen it done to monarchies and peasants, Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, foreigners and minorities, political radicals and moderates, leftists and right wingers, communists and capitalists, and on and on... All of these efforts have involved hatred or violence and are rarely remembered as high points in human story.
In this era of division, Jesus' words here and to love my enemies challenge me that we can disagree but not dehumanize, we can be different but not belittle.
And if we seek to reduce evil in the world, we may need to start by removing our hatred, our prejudice, and our own pointing fingers.
From the Gray,
“Scars are souvenirs you never lose.” -Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”