August 7, 2011

Hard Sayings VI: Rip Out Your Right Eye

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. ~Matthew 5:29

The immediate question is: “Why don’t we have one-eyed amputees filling our churches?” It is because this verse is not meant to be taken literally for starters. The grammatical stumbling block in this saying from Jesus is the part about your right eye and right hand causing you to sin. How can one’s right eye and right hand do that? I do not suppose it is an accident that Matthew would place this saying immediately after verse 27 & 28 "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.” This passage is about adultery in the heart and mind which I have already concluded is as much of a sin as the real deal in: Hard Sayings IV: Your Cheatin’ Heart. For anyone’s eye to dwell too long on a temptation poses great risk to the observer greatly weakening their spiritual defenses. The eye is the member of the body initially responsible for luring us into an immoral thought or deed (Numbers 15:39; Proverbs 21:4; Ezekiel 6:9; 18:12; 20:8). Literally plucking out the eye wouldn’t fix the problem anyway. It would just create a one-eyed, one-handed man with a wicked heart. It is the heart that is the issue here, not the eyes or hands (or feet). The point is that we must deal radically with temptation to eradicate it or keep it at bay. It is to be avoided at all costs.

A few things need to be considered in the historical and cultural context of this passage. In 1st century middle eastern thought the right hand of anything was deemed the more valuable of the two (hence Jesus going to be at the right hand of the Father). Better to enter Heaven as a cyclops than to enter Gehenna with 20/20 vision. When Matthew then follows up the eyeball comment with the hand comment this would’ve been hard-hitting and profound for a 1st century audience because of the right hand or right side being the side of power.  Be destroying these to symbols of power you are figuratively making a person impotent and powerless. In Mark 9:43-48 we even see the inclusion of the right foot. What we see is the use of figures of speech and symbolism common to the time to paint a mental picture of the importance of not dwelling on sinful thoughts and behavior to the point of the thought becoming action. The body represented the whole being whereas the eye and hand represented the desires of a person. The rest… is purposeful hyperbole or overstatement to drive home a point. If your right eye causes you to sin, don't literally pluck it out, literally look away. Everyday we are alive in this world we must crucify and kill the ungodly and sinful desires of the flesh. This is not easy and Jesus was quite aware of this. That is why He said to do something so extreme in such hyperbolic language. It is as powerful as saying we must crush our sin with a hammer and kill it...dead. BANG!

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