this was originally written and posted at youthontherock.com
on digging out eyeballs
this particular passage has troubled people, who don’t understand the brilliance of jesus’ teachings, for many years:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
i remember thinking, as a child, how odd this was — and on its surface, really, it seems to be saying that christ is advocating self-mutilation.
actually, though, jesus is teaching something very different: wholeness.
let us dig:
before jesus got to the eyeball gouging part, he said this:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… …I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
remember that the “scribes and pharisees” were the “most religious” people of that time. in christianity today, he might well say, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of even billy graham, or james dobson, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
he’s telling the people that you have to be better than the `best` people you know, in order to qualify for heaven.
he then goes on to discuss several ways in which you have to be better, listing anger, lust, contempt, speaking honestly, divorce, and lots of other things.
it is in the lust one that he speaks of gouging out eyeballs.
he is saying, essentially: “if your main goal is to not technically do wrong, you can accomplish that by lopping off the parts of you that enable that behavior.”
you absolutely will not do what you can not do.
if your goal is to not look at another lustfully, then cutting out your eyeballs is the best way to accomplish that goal.
if, however, your goal in life is to honor and please god, by loving other people, no mutilation is needed in order not to lust.
love is the way that goes beyond the “scribes and pharisees”.
jesus reminds us that god desires “mercy, not sacrifice”.
god wants us, most of all, not to “give stuff up for him” — begrudingly living in such a way that we just technically don’t sin, but rather to be so filled with his love that we are constantly on the lookout for ways to show true mercy and love to others.
you can slide up into heaven a bloody stumped thing, and say, “i never looked at a woman lustfully, nor have i stolen”, and you’d be right.
but jesus teaches us that we can also allow god’s love to live through us, and avoid sinning even in our hearts.
i’ll follow up by saying what is brilliant about jesus teachings:
he was often vague, allowing us to come to our own conclusions, rather than just stating things “as it is”.
how often have you had your mind changed for you?
how often has someone said something that was so impossible to refute that you, then and there, gave up what you believed before and adopted what they said?
(you can look at almost any thread on the YOTR bb to see this principle in action: you can’t force people to believe what you want the to believe)
jesus knew this, and taught a different way: being vague and stating things that allow us to consider things in a new way and then come to our own conclusions.
we change our minds all the time, when we come to our own conclusions.
this is what is so amazing about jesus: he pointed things out subtly, allowing us to see and claim truth as if it were our own ideas (because, in the end, it is!)
the more i have closely studied jesus’ teachings, the more apparent the explanations like the above one become — and, i am more and more convinced that we don’t understand god, grace, freewill or any of that stuff at all, really.
we have inherited our theology from the romans and from western pop culture, rather than from a jewish rabbi.
it is time to get back to following the rabbi.
this is not a new teaching
i was far far from the first to “have” this insight — i’m just bringing it to you guys.
but, you’ll do well to meditate on jesus’ words with this in mind: he very often is saying much much more than the words themselves suggest at first blush.
jesus was the smartest guy to ever live — and the greatest teacher.
his words are far from simple.