This homily was delivered by Rev. Matthew Schuster, SJC at Sacred Heart Church in Springfield, IL. I always assumed Our Lord was using hyperbole, but Fr. Matthew is right. It is literal. Maiming our bodies would not accomplish anything!
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”
Usually the preacher, after reading this hard saying of the Lord, feels the need to take time to explain how the Lord shouldn’t be taken literally. ‘It’s an exaggerated statement. He is using hyperbole. He doesn’t really mean to literally cut body parts off.’
But I don’t think that is correct. I think the Lord IS being literal with us. “IF” it really causes you to sin, then get rid of it.
If only it were so easy . . . Cut off a hand, an eye, a foot, and be free from sin? – we could all become saints, right? Think about it; wouldn’t it be worthwhile to be maimed for a time in order to be assured of eternal life?
But . . . it isn’t so easy, is it?
The fact is that sin is not rooted in my body, but in the soul. “If your body part causes you to sin;” that’s a big if.
Think about it. Even if I decided to cut my tongue out because I often use it for gossip, that wouldn’t cut the desire for gossip out of my heart (and I would still have thumbs to text my gossip). Even if I decided to castrate myself, that wouldn’t cut out the lustful desires of the heart. Even if I decided to cut off my hands so I would stop stuffing myself with food, that wouldn’t remove the intemperance of my heart.
The Lord, through this hard saying, is actually inviting us to freedom. Do not limit yourself; do not enslave yourself. Beloved child of God, you are worth more than you understand.
Within our human makeup we possess a body and a soul. But the person that you are – that you that makes you you, the core that allows you to use the pronoun “I” – is a reality far greater than any of your parts, or the sum of them all. By saying, “my body, or my desires are causing me to sin,” we become like a king/queen who has handed over all rule and control to his subjects. We have abdicated the throne, and chaos ensues.
No, you are called to be head and ruler over all parts of your life, and not to be ruled by the lust of the eye, the sinful urges of the heart, the motives of foot and hand. These are parts of you, but they do not have control over you.
By saying – CUT IT OFF – Jesus is saying “YOU” are in control. He affirms your identity and responsibility.
We like to make excuses for our actions. Maybe we should stop, and just take responsibility. It isn’t breaking off pieces of our body that will make you holy. To be whole you must foster a broken spirit and contrite heart, calling out to the Divine Physician to cut out all that doesn’t belong in His beloved child.