Temptations to Sin
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!”
The past week was quite filled with a load much more than this aging servant could be able to handle. I was in Quezon City for a Church Commission meeting and then there was on the same day the memorial service for Mr Robert Kuan at the National Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint John along E. Rodriguez Avenue. Mr. Kuan the founder of Chow King passed on due to the Big C. He was former chairperson of Saint Luke’s Medical Center Board of Trustees and was instrumental in putting up new church buildings of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines in the past decade. Then there was the responsibility to attend to Ompong’s victims through our Diocesan Disaster Risk Reduction, Relief and Rehabilitation (D2R4). Hence, I was not able to submit my piece last week. And I cross my fingers that the deadline set by the editor prior to Ompong does not hold– that is before 12:00 noon of Thursdays (?).
Our gospel lesson this week tells us about Jesus telling about the gravity of sin. Some biblical and liturgical experts many years ago arranged the series of Sunday readings we call the lectionary and this just happens to be the day they picked for cut-your-hand-off, cut-your-foot-off, gouge-your-eye-out Sunday. To most preachers basing their homilies or sermons from the Lectionary or the designated Gospel reading on a certain Sunday, this one is the most avoided designated lesson. One preacher dubbed it as “Gouge Your Eyes Sunday.” Let us take a look. “So if your hand makes you lose your faith, cut it off It is better for you to enter life without a hand than to keep both hands and go off to hell, to the fire that never goes out.v45And if your foot makes you lose your faith, cut it off It is better for you to enter life without a foot than to keep both feet and be thrown into hell.v47And if your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out! It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell. How can we make a sermon palatable to the sensitive ears of our congregation with these words? If these hyperboles be adhered to strictly we can just imagine a society mostly populated with people missing an eyesight or without the upper limbs!
Reading through Biblical commentaries relative to these verses I am convinced that the point here is that Jesus is serious about sin. To put it mildly, he stressed that sin was a bad idea and to put it bluntly, Jesus thought that it would be better for us to go through life without one or more appendages than to sin, and especially, to cause someone who believes in him to sin. Jesus hated sin. Hyperbole as they are, the “gouge your eyes” sayings, Jesus does not expect us to take it literally.
“So if your hand makes you lose your faith, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life without a hand than to keep both hands and go off to hell..”
What would it take for you to cut off one of your limbs? There was a movie entitled “127 Hours” that features a biopic of Aron Ralston a rock climber. While he was in Blue John Canyon in Utah a large boulder fell and pinned his arm. He couldn’t lift and chip it away. He was stuck for 127 hours more than 5 days and even forced to drink his urine to avoid dehydration. He only became unstuck by cutting off his arm using his pocket knife which he found out not sharp enough to cut through the arm’s bone the fastest. Painfully and slowly he freed himself and rappelled down the cliff using his remaining arm. Indeed, a radical decision! Cutting off limbs! This is a radical decision to make in a very serious situation. But the serious situation might not always be a physical one. It can also be a spiritual one. In these words we are again faced with a ‘hard saying’ of Jesus.
As we go through these hard words of ‘cutting off… and gouging out’ I hope that we immediately realize that Jesus doesn’t really mean physically cutting off our hand or take out the offending body parts. We all know that cutting off or removing the offending part doesn’t actually stop the problem. There were and are plenty of Christians who have missing limbs or eye sight but still sin!
In the earlier verse Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,g it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” There are twofold concern on this text. First, Jesus does not want any of his disciples to cause another believer to stumble. Jesus is saying that if you cause a little one to fall from faith, even unknowingly, it would be better for a big millstone to be tied around the neck and for you to be thrown to the depths of the sea. Second, Jesus does not want any of us to stumble in our personal walk of faith. Jesus was basically saying that if we really want to get to his Kingdom, our hands, our feet, and our eyes can’t sin because nothing sinful can enter the kingdom of heaven. The gravity of sin.
I came across with this article relative to the Gospel lesson this week about sin and how we see it and in God’s perspective. Time-lapse photography compresses a series of events into one picture. Such a photo appeared in an issue of National Geographic. Taken from a Rocky Mountain peak during a heavy thunderstorm, the picture captured the brilliant lightning display that had taken place throughout the storm’s duration. The time-lapse technique created a fascinating, spaghetti-like web out of the individual bolts. In such a way, our sin presents itself before the eyes of God. Where we see only isolated or individual acts, God sees the overall web of our sinning. What may seem insignificant — even sporadic — to us and passes with hardly a notice creates a much more dramatic display from God’s panoramic viewpoint. The psalmist was right when he wrote, “Who can discern his [one’s own] errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me.” (Psalm 19:12-13).**