Before Mass: Every three years, we here this Gospel, where Jesus commands that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out… if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Better to enter eternal life with one hand than to go into hell with two hands. Seems very logical – even though it seems a bit extreme – OK – I’ll admit – over-the-top extreme.
Now normally, you’d expect the preacher to make everybody feel better immediately by saying – well, Jesus didn’t really MEAN for us to cut our hands off… he was just speaking figuratively – using hyperbole….that’s a fancy term for Jesus was just trying to exaggerate to get our attention.
BUT – I’m not going to let us all off that easy. Jesus used these examples for a very real reason. So as we listen to the readings, think about what Jesus is asking you to cut off.
Imagine this – you’re going on the ultimate vacation – you’re going to hike and climb BY YOURSELF for a week in the wilderness in Utah. It’s going to be awesome. You set out cross-country, because there are no trails. You climb up and down canyons. Then you come to this one canyon, not really a canyon – more like a crevice… it’s like a 3 foot opening in the rock. You decide to climb down through that crevice. You get to the bottom and walking along to see where the crevice leads – and you come to a rock that’s about waist high, so you’re going to have to climb over. So you do what you’ve done a thousand times before, you put your arm over the rock and hoist yourself up to climb over – but then without warning, the rock shifts – and pins your arm between the rock and the canyon wall.
Excruciating pain! You panic – you try to pull your arm out – try to pry the rock up – try to break the rock. After a while you try to calm yourself – OK let’s think this through. How am I going to get out of this… and that’s when it really hits you…you are in BIG trouble. You can’t get your arm free… there is NOBODY within 20 miles of you, so you can’t call for help…oh – and no way you’ll get a phone signal down here in this crevice. You’re 100 feet down in a canyon, so nobody is going to SEE you unless they are specifically LOOKING for you… but remember – nobody will even notice you’re missing for another week – and then they’d have to search a huge wilderness area filled with a thousand crevices to find you, because you aren’t on any path and didn’t tell anybody which direction you’d be heading..
Do you feel the gravity of the situation? Oh – and since you’re in Utah, it’s very easy to get dehydrated – and you only have maybe enough liquids to get you through one day. You might have enough food for a few days, but without liquids in this desert, you’re toast.
What would you do?
I imagine many of you have heard the story about Aron Ralston – in fact, you may have seen the movie about him called 127 hours. This situation pretty much describes Aron’s experience back in 2003. He spent more than 5 days, pinned in the canyon - doing everything he could to stay alive… hoping beyond hope that somebody would find him. But finally, on the 5th day, he came to the conclusion that if he didn’t do something drastic, he was going to die.
So he did do something drastic… He took out his pocket knife and cut his arm off – broke the bone – and then climbed out of the canyon and hiked 8 miles until he came across some other people who helped him get out of the wilderness.
It’s gruesome, I know – but think about it – if it was you – could you do it? If you knew that it was a choice between living to see tomorrow with one hand – or dying right there in the canyon with two hands… could you and I do it?
I think this perfectly illustrates what Jesus is saying today. What has us pinned in the canyon? How is Satan holding us down? If there is anything in our lives that is causing us to sin, cut it off… better to go to heaven with one hand, than to go to hell with two hands.
We all have SOMETHING we need to cut off. Yeah, Jesus may not seriously want us to cut off body parts… but he IS seriously talking about taking RADICAL ACTION. Maybe TV is your downfall – throw away the TV. Maybe we’re stingy and greedy with our money – if that is causing us to sin – cut it off! If alcohol is our problem – dump it out. If lust is your problem, get rid of the things that lead you into that temptation. I know that’s particularly a problem for men, but I understand some women struggle with that as well.
But there’s another Radical teaching in the Gospel we shouldn’t overlook. Jesus says that whoever causes somebody else to sin – it would be better if they were thrown into the sea. So even if we are not committing the sin, if something we do CONTRIBUTES to someone else sinning, we share the guilt. How we dress – how we act – how we speak – peer pressure… if anything I do contributes to somebody else being led into temptation… ‘it would be better if I was thrown into the sea with a millstone around my neck’.
It’s time we stop watering down the Gospel… Jesus is calling for RADICAL discipleship. We are not going to STUMBLE into Heaven…. We’ll only find if we SEEK it. We’ll only experience heaven if we make radical change in our lives. Ask God to point out the things in your life where Satan has us pinned. Whatever draws us to sin OR however we contribute to someone else’s sin – bring it to confession
… and cut it off.