“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”
This morning most of us will go to church where we expect to see something of Jesus. It is a good idea to get in the habit of looking for him. He’s not just in church. You can find Jesus almost everywhere. This week, for example, I’ve been expecting to see him in my literature class.See, I have been teaching a unit on poetry. Exactly one student loves this unit, the others are jollying me along. So far, they’ve studied the use of rhyme, and para-rhyme, alliteration, timing, onomatopoeia. Oh, we’ve had a big time! By far, however, their favorite literary device is hyperbole. One clever girl informed me that, “hyperbole is the most wonderful, fantastic, amazing, good kind of thing that has been invented in the whole world ever.” That is, of course, hyperbole. One of the boys asked if he could change his English name to “Perbole” because he wants his friends to say “Hi, Perbole” when they see him. I did not allow the change.I sometimes wonder about the seriousness of my students.
I shared my own favorite poetic hyperbole, from W.H. Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening,”
“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street.”
Since they were not very impressed with Auden I asked them to write their own hyperbole and I got answers like:
- I am as great as Mao Zedong.
- Teacher love poetry more than hamburger.
- ShangHai the best city in the solar system.
You see why I was hoping Jesus would turn up. Jesus is much better at hyperbole. In today’s reading from Mark, he seems to be on a roll.
- “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off…”
- “if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off…”
- “if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out…”
That sounds like pretty harsh hyperbole. But I am going to risk sounding like President Clinton by saying that it really depends on what your definition of “it” is. If “it” is the hand, the foot, or the eye, then it is harsh. But if “it” is the thing that causes stumbling then we can keep our hands, feet, and eyes. It’s the other things we have to cut off. Jesus is not just a hyperbolic ranter, he is protecting us.
Jesus is saying that we should keep our hands, feet, and eyes… we should keep our whole selves… out of the burning rubbish heap by cutting off the things that cause us to stumble.
The word that is sometimes translated “Hell” in this passage is not really referring to a place in the afterlife. It’s the city rubbish dump: Gehenna. Oh, it’s a real place, it was fiery, and you didn’t want to go there; But, it doesn’t have anything to do with the after life. This is a passage that is telling us how to live today. It’s the hands, feet, and eyes that are metaphorical. If we are going to be salt in the world, we need our spiritual hands, feet, and eyes. There’s work to do. We feed, comfort, and reach out with our hands; we traverse new territory with the feet of our minds and hearts, going to the lost, and the needy; and we discern the hand of God, sometimes it is hard, but we have these eyes, spiritual eyes.
When I lived in Cambodia I saw a lot of people without hands, or feet, and some without eyes. There are over 40,000 people in Cambodia with at least one amputated limb because of the land mines placed in the countryside by Lon Nol and his Khmer Rouge, and other regimes too. It is estimated that there are between four and six million more mines and other unexploded ordinance in Cambodia which means there will be more amputations in the future, and more deaths.
I looked for Jesus in Cambodia, and wondered what he would do if he were there. In my mind, I could not imagine Jesus healing anybody. I wanted to think that he would. I prayed about it, and I said, “Jesus, you would heal them, wouldn’t you?” But, I began to realize that I was imposing my own ideas about what a human body should look like, and that’s not right. The people I knew who didn’t have the same parts as me were perfectly well. It is those of us without spiritual hands, those of us who refuse to explore new ideas, to reach out to those who are not like us who need to be healed.
If you have physical hands, feet, and eyes, how are you using them to build the kingdom of God?
What do you need to cut off from your life to release your spiritual hands?
Who can you reach out to? How can you pray? What will you do in God’s kingdom today?
Where will you go? What new ideas have you kept on the back burner of your mind? What has been too challenging to address? Is there some spiritual territory you need to walk across? Be brave. You can do it!
Can you see it? Can you see the reign of God breaking in to ordinary time and space? Can you find the unmet need? Can you find the unloved, the wounded?
That’s what this passage is about. Don’t get caught up in the hyperbole. Get caught up in God! Use whatever hands, feet, and eyes you’ve got. Cut out everything that keeps you from using them.
Image: Photo by Linda McMillan. A man who has had his hand amputated as a result of a land mine detonation plays in a band. Near The Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. 2009.