29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
How literally do we need to take this? Was Jesus being serious about maiming our bodies to save ourselves from sin and damnation? Many people (including myself) have used this passage to illustrate how radical we have to be in our lives to root out sin. Others use this passage in the context of Jesus’ arguments against the Pharisees, saying that this is just another illustration of how we must live the spirit of the law more than the letter of the law. Nobody (I hope!) takes this passage completely literally and goes on to maim himself.
We could use an illustration of a different sort to explain these verses. For example, if your hand had been injured and developed a serious infection like gangrene. In order to save the rest of your body from the spreading infection, doctors might have to amputate your hand. I’m pretty sure one person or another has used a metaphor like that before, treating the infection as sin, encouraging us to cut off the sinful part of our lives. I think it’s pretty obvious that such literal interpretations miss an important point about sin – that sin begins with temptation and our own desires, in our heart and not in our eye or hand. (See James 1:14-15) So we could say that Jesus is simply telling us to cut off those parts of our lives that lead us to temptation.
But what if God IS being literal here? After all, if we believe the resurrection is a literal event, we should believe that we can be condemned to “hell fire” if even one part of our life is sinful. So, what if one of our “members” had to be cut off and cast from us in order to enter the kingdom of God? What if it IS “more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell”?
What if that member was Christ?
Christ allowed Himself to be beaten, battered, tortured and crucified. Christ was cast outside the walls of Jerusalem to die on a hill away from the city whose new name was supposed to be “Yahweh Shammah” – the Lord is there. (Ezekiel 48:35) Jesus took nails in His hands so we don’t have to cut off our own hands. Jesus took nails in His feet so we can enter into the kingdom whole-bodied. Jesus wore the painful crown of thorns and was pierced by the spear so we need never feel the barbs of Satan and his demons. And since Jesus Christ became the part of us that we ought to cut off, how little it is to ask that we should cut ourselves off from temptation.
Jesus understood that we ALL – the “BODY of Christ,” all believers – stood to gain more by the death of One than to allow us to continue to live in sin that leads to death. It truly is more profitable that Christ died once for all, so that we might live in Him.
Lord God in Heaven, our Rock and our Redeemer, I praise Your holy name. Thank You for paying the price in Your Son so I need never face that death myself. I pray, O Lord, that I live a life worthy of the profit I have gained through Christ. Help me, Lord Jesus, to cast off the temptations in my life, and give me strength to face those I cannot avoid. Amen.