CMC Eps 20 – MATTHEW 5:29-30 – TEAR IT, SAW IT, OR SET IT ON FIRE
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This is a very challenging passage. It’s designed to make you stop dead in your tracks. It was very successful.
What did He just say ? Tear what out ? Saw what off ? Throw who in a furnace ?
What was Jesus really trying to get at? The clues to this confusing passage are hidden in context of ancient Jewish Rabbinical Teaching.
Hi.. I’m Gene Ort.. and you’re listening to the common man commentary..
This is podcast #20.. We will be looking at MATTHEW 5:29 through… 30
The Title for this podcast is: “ Tear it, Saw it or Set it on Fire”
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Matthew 5:29-30 ESV
Here is the message version : ““Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.”
Matthew 5:29-30 MSG
Wow …. tough passage.. by anyone’s standards. You might remember for context that Jesus was just telling his therapy group on the hillside about the why behind the 6th and 7th commandments. Don’t murder.. don’t commit adultery.. if you missed it, the details are in podcast number 19. You get bonus points if you go back and listen to that one.
Even the staunchest of literalists don’t spend a lot of time on this one..
It will be good to address something right away. It will come up again, over and over through out the gospels. The word, hyperbole. Lets look it up. The definition is this : “obvious and intentional exaggeration.” This was common practice in Jewish rabbinical teaching. It’s a pretty dramatic way to make a point. The second definition helps to solidify the idea. “ an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally”. This method Is actually pretty consistent with the way Jesus teaches most of the time. He loves parable.. he loves to story tell. It works.
Our hard heads and wounded hearts resist direct confrontation, I know I do. We have well barricaded fortifications against just about anything that pushes us to change what we are doing and how we think and believe. Until we are really ready to change.
This particular hyperbolic statement is a direct frontal assault of radical proportion.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” Another version says “ pluck it out “. Tear.. pluck.. blind .. none of these options sounds remotely appealing.
Here is an interesting observation.. lets say you are a guy.. you see a women and you are drawn to her.. you watch her from a distance .. during the process of seeing her.. something changes. At first you notice that she is attractive .. then something happens.. maybe something you see..…and it’s not long before you have objectified her. Your thinking changes from “she is pretty” to what pleasure she could bring you. This is what Jesus has just addressed in the previous verses about lust .
Your vision, the eye being the specific body part used for observing her is in operation. But is the eye itself really the problem ? What’s really going on ? Is Jesus really wanting us to think that seeing is at fault?
I would like to think that people are smarter than that but that is not always the case. That being said, I am betting if you are listening to this podcast that you are not going to be tearing your eyes out anytime soon. Almost any thinking person will quickly realize that Jesus is addressing our minds, the place where our character is built and choices originate. The mind, the place that ingests information through learning and then executes a decision. A decision is made and a course of action takes place and the ball gets rolling toward an outcome. The freedom to make that choice has predetermined consequences. Generally speaking, a good choice gets a good outcome. A bad choice.. bad outcome. All things being equal of course and certainly there are exceptions.
By the way, there are some religious communities that have takin this thought to some extremes. The women are not allowed to expose any parts of their bodies in public. They are forced to hide under black sheets with tiny slots for their eyes to look through. This makes the assumption that the lust the men possess is not their own responsibility but its because the female body is evil and must be hidden. I think the modern term for this is blame shifting.
And next, everybody’s favorite word, sin. Most teaching I have heard on sin has it reduced to a “ naughty list “.. Don’t do this .. don’t do that and especially .. that .. never ever do that ! What ever that is..
The sin referred to in this passage is, “ reducing another human being to an abject to be consumed for personal pleasure”. God is pretty clear about this, all of his children are to be safe in our care. Safe from consumption of any kind. Sin in general can be defined as anything that causes you to hide from God in shame. The “sin” is represented by the turning away from God, not Him turning away from us. The religious community often gets this one backwards.
One view on this sin topic has God saying ; You have sinned, you are a sinner, I am disgusted with you.. leave my presence until I can adequately punish you and later you will feel guilty and sorry and beg for my forgiveness. If you get it right.. I will let you back in .. but only because I have too.
Another view says : I know I have sinned.. I feel ashamed.. I don’t feel lovable anymore.. I am sure God wont like me after what I have done so I will go away by myself and hide from His disapproval.
What does Jesus actually teach about this ? The summary : When we do something that causes us to hide from God.. that’s sin . A good example being the Prodigal son story in Luke’s gospel.
God not only isn’t interested in punishing, his one and only interest is in restoration. The younger brother has made some self destructive choices, and the father doesn’t stop him. He doesn’t deny the son’s ability to make the choice nor does he alter the natural outcomes of that choice. But, when the son chooses to return to his father, He greets him with open arms. No punitive response. Again, the power of choice and consequence comes into play.
So lets do a little logical reinterpretation .. the verse reimagined…. here we go … quoting… “If you find yourself thinking about anything that will result in you wanting to hide from God, do everything you possibly can to correct your thinking. If that means changing your surroundings.. than get up and move. If that means changing what you are looking at.. than turn your head. What ever you need to do.. choose to do it. The choice is yours. The outcome of that choice will bring the predetermined consequence. “ end quote..
Choice is at the center of this equation. But what about the times when you feel very weak. The power to make the good choice seems to be out of reach. Many of us were not exposed to seeing good choices in action, nor taught that they were even an option. There are many who were and are being taught in this very moment to choose poorly. These life choices can have devastating consequences.
I am reminded of the story when Jesus was walking on the water and Peter had joined him. In this case he was responding to an invitation. When Peter started to sink … he became afraid. I’m guessing he sank like a rock and thought he was going to drown. Peter was normally pretty cocky..but in this situation, he was over his head.. ok.. I thought that was funny. But Peter says something next that I have counted as the three most important words ever spoken by a human being. “ Jesus save me ! “.
These words need to be very near the surphase of our vocabulary at all times. They are the words and mindset needed when those choices come upon us that can pull us under.
When the consequences of our choices gets us in deep and hot water, thats when we give up on our hiding from God and call out His name. The act of calling out His name is by definition faith. We don’t cry out to someone for help if we do not believe they can assist us in a significant way. We call on Him .. who can be trusted.
On a more practical level, a child with a wise and active parent would be constantly learning about choices and there consequences. As adults even if we did not have that modeled well for us, we can actively re-parent ourselves. A wise mentor or counselor can be immensely helpful. Actively engaging in specific self help strategies. The internet has a lot of great information on topic of making good life choices. You will find what you actively look for.
The other portion of the previous passage was dealing with anger and rage. Mouth murder being equal in spirit to homicide. The same lesson applies.. What choices do you face when provoked to rage. The passion in that moment can be very hard to resist. The range of options at your disposal in that moment are vast. In this situation, you will also be calling on your emotional maturity. I have mentioned this in previous podcasts but its worth repeating. Here is a Victor Frankle quote with my minor modifications:
“Between stimulus.. an offending circumstance that demands a reaction or response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. “
I have nick named this process .. “Wait a Minute”
For me, .. emotional maturity and relational stability is absolutely dependent on slowing my response time down significantly .. wisdom is rarely instantaneous for me.
I like the way the message puts it .. “you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. “ again.. hyperbole is still the teaching methodology.
Up next.. Jesus says something else that is shocking..
“For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
We have no reason to believe that Jesus has suddenly abandoned his hyperbolic exaggeration .. so what is he really trying to get at with this kind of language ?
As if things were not already controversial enough….. Let’s talk about hell. Oh Goody .. First eye plucking, then amputation.. now eternal torture in a furnace.
So if you think that all sounds a bit absurd.. I for one would agree with you. It is absurd. But why ?
In previous podcasts looking at earlier passages in Matthew, it is made very clear that Jesus mission was in part to correct a wrong thinking about who God is. His message was, Peace. Peace with God. God is not angry with us. He declares that His mission is releasing us from prison. Apparently a prison we don’t know we were in. His mission, God with us.. to show us clearly who the Father is, what He does and what His character is really like.
That was not the way the people he was addressing were thinking about God. They thought God was angry with them and could not wait to punish them for their many sins. Yet, Jesus is quoted in John as saying : “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The thief in this passage is a metaphor for the religious leaders of the day who cared nothing for God and even less for His children.
This religious spirit did not end with the Jewish leadership of the day. Fast forward to year 313 AD and The Roman emperor Constantine decriminalizes Christianity and makes it the states religion. The one thing power loves, is more power.
By 325 AD, Constantine orders the beginning of the council of Nicea. They will determine what writings and teachings will be acceptable in this new state sponsored religion. You can smell where this is going .. Letters and manuscripts that had been in circulation in house churches in the underground Christian movement for centuries have now been invited into mainstream Roman political culture..
This council of men, many of whom had experienced persecution at the hands of the Romans and well chosen men appointed by Constantine are now deciding what it means to be a Christ follower.
A carefully curated and state sponsored collection. The Bible is assembled.
Prior to this, The Roman Catholic Church Fathers, Tertullian 160-220 ad, Jerome 347-420 ad, and Augustine 354-430 believed and taught the doctrine of hell and ever lasting torment. The concept of hell has its origins in Egyptian, Greek and Roman writings. The most famous being Plato 427-347 Bc.
In the year 382 AD, Pope Damascus commissioned Jerome to create a translation of the Roman sponsored bible into Latin. It’s known as The Latin Vulgate 405 ad.
Jerome was raised Roman Catholic. He brought his own bias and doctrine of hell with him to the project and misinterpreted a few words. The Hebrew word Sheol, The Greek words hades, Tartarus and Gehenna, he defined them as : Hell. He also misinterpreted the Hebrew word owlam and the Greek words anion and aionios to mean forever or everlasting. Opps….
The Latin vulgate became the official bible of the Roman Catholic Church and reigned as such for more than a thousand years. During the dark Middle Ages. The only language the Bible was allowed in was Latin. Only Catholic Priests were educated in Latin. Power loves power. It gets pretty ugly. Heart breaking really.
This is a huge study all by itself. It’s worth doing but it will stir up some stuff that you may or may not want to know.
So now we know a bit more about this Hell doctrine and it’s origin. It helps us understand why Jesus might have chosen to include this in His exaggeration. In my observation, He is equating the non sense of plucking your eye out or sawing your hand off with the ridiculous notion that your loving Heavenly Father who is trying to rescue you intends to barbecue you in the back yard for eternity if you don’t happen do this confusing life on earth perfectly.
It’s a beautiful form of teaching. It forces his audience into thinking for themselves. To observe and ponder. Jesus doesn’t want a state sponsored follower. He isn’t even slightly interested in institutionalized or corporate mandated adherence. He is representing our Father.. in heaven. This about family.
We all have a lens that we see our world through, our own rose colored glasses.
Jesus is introducing His audience to a whole new way of seeing who God is. What really matters. What humanity is supposed to look like. When you see it for what it is .. you are moved by the beauty. He is actively parenting us .. right now.
I hear Him saying to me.. right now.. don’t look at people alone as your example of how to live. Don’t let institutions take the place of your own search for truth. Let the lens of Jesus guide your beliefs.
Do what ever you must do to keep the seeking spirit alive. Jesus promised, if you seek, you will find.
The most famous verse in all the world.
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17 ES
Well thats enough to think about for now..
Until next time .. I am Gene Ort and Thank you for listening to the common man commentary.
I’D LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH This “ blessing :
Love God. Love Yourself. Love the next person He puts in front of you.