1 Corinthians 2:6-10
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matthew 5:17-37), Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount. In our passage, Jesus says many things that are challenging to us. After He exhorts the people to go beyond the letter of the Law when it comes to killing and to adultery, He says, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have the whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna." Jesus is not telling us to maim or dismember ourselves. But He is telling us that where we spend eternal life is more important than anything we have here on earth.
That is a radical message. In a way, that should not surprise us. Jesus’ words are often radical to us. But if we think about it, Jesus is no less radical for us. As St. Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah in our second reading from 1 Corinthians (2:6-10): "’What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ this God has revealed to us through the Spirit." God has revealed His love to us. God has shown us time and time again that He has not given up on us! He has not "thrown" us "away" as a lost cause. Instead, Jesus "threw" Himself away on the Cross in order to free us from the power of sin!
What are we willing to "throw away" for the sake of following Jesus? I think we are often tempted to throw away those parts of the Gospel that make us uncomfortable or that we find inconvenient. We may be tempted to throw away those parts that talk about love of enemies or mercy or forgiveness. We may wish to throw out the parts about turning the other cheek or going the extra mile. We may want to dispose of the words about denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. And yet, these are the words Jesus put into practice in order to save us!
At the same time we are tempted to dismiss parts of the Gospel, we are also tempted to hold on to things and attitudes that keep us away from God. Listen to what Jesus says about murder: "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment." Perhaps it is better for us to lose our self-righteousness than to hold on to our resentments and take them with us into hell. Listen to what Jesus says about adultery: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Perhaps it is better to lose our feeling that all of our desires should be fulfilled, than to hold on to our lust and take it with us into hell.
For some of us (maybe most of us?) these attitudes and behaviors are hard to let go of. We may even be addicted to them. But even in our weakness and limitations, God loves us and wants to hold on to us! And even though we may be weak, God is not, and He will give us what we need to throw away what needs to be discarded. He is even willing to guide us, through the Holy Spirit, about what we need to keep and what we need to throw away. As Sirach says in our first reading (15:15-20): "The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed." Thanks be to God!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.