“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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Matthew 5:27-30

There’s a somewhat viral post going around again about lust that references this passage and praises Jesus for encouraging His followers to guard themselves against lust by any means, even disfigurement, but not to blame the person they are lusting after. This is certainly the meaning of the text, and we should teach it. If a man cannot control his lust, that is a personal failing of his, and he should take his own measures to remove the temptation rather than blame others for his own sin.

It is also the basis for the larger principle Jesus was teaching here; the temporary suffering we may have to undergo to rid ourselves of our own temptations is tiny when compared to the shame of Ghenna (hell in our translation). While I would discourage anyone from taking the hyperbole of gouged eyes and dismembered hands as a literal example, some of the steps we may take to remove temptation may feel just as extreme. Tempted to be unfaithful by a coworker? Get another job. Tempted by pornography? Cancel your internet service. Tempted to shoplift? Order all your shopping delivered or brought to the car.

In order for Jesus teaching to be understood, even within the short passage that we reference here, there must be an acknowledgement of sin. In this passage, Jesus uses the word we derive “scandal” from to describe the offending body part. “If your hand offends/ensnares/causes you to stumble, cut it off” acknowledges that a spiritual as well as a personal offense has occurred, the consequences of which are spiritual, namely Hell.

Jesus is not a prop, either of his believers or those who would deride his believers. He is our Great Teacher, and we learn from Him. Sometimes that is easy and it makes us feel good. Sometimes the teachings are hard. If there is a barrier to accepting His teachings, it is on us as individuals to remove it.

Ethan Kirl

Originally Published March 25, 2021