[No audio; my recorder ran out of batteries]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How seriously do we take Jesus? Do we react with horror at His commands in our Gospel reading? Or do we hear Him and, after a moment of awkward silence, laugh uncomfortably, shake our heads, and walk away, untouched and unaffected? What do we do with a Jesus who threatens Hell and suggests self-mutilation or drowning by millstone? Some would neuter His teaching, saying that He never really talked about Hell. That was added later by over-zealous disciples. He didn’t really mean that stuff about a donkey-size millstone—unless, of course, it’s my “righteous” anger that’s been aroused. He wasn’t serious about cutting off your hand and your foot and putting out your eye; that’s just too morbid. Or maybe it is we who are not being serious—serious about our sin, that is; serious about the sins we love so much that we have convinced ourselves they are not really sin, no matter what the Word of God says; serious about the sin into which we lead others, and the sin into which we ourselves willingly go. To cause to sin is to scandalize; the true scandal is not a politician accepting too many campaign contributions, but anything that causes one of Christ’s little ones to be separated from Him. Even the smallest sin cuts a person off from Jesus in this world, which will, unrepented, lead to being cut off eternally: in the place called in Greek Gehenna, where “their worm does not end and the fire is not extinguished” (Mark 9:48; Isaiah 66:24).
Gehenna, understand, was not made for you or any human; it was made for the devil and his angels. Nevertheless, humans who are in league with Satan will receive the punishment reserved for him. So it would be literally and infinitely better to cut off a hand, or a foot, or gouge out an eye, and enter life under the Reign of God crippled, than to enter Gehenna whole. It would be better to be drowned with a large millstone around your neck, than to cause someone else to enter Gehenna. Jesus is not joking; He is not speaking metaphorically. He means it: do not cause yourself to sin, and do not cause others to sin. Be careful, little hands, what you touch: Do not handle anything that will cause you to sin, even if everyone else is doing it. Be careful, little feet, where you go: Do not walk into any place that will cause you to sin, and do not walk around with people who will cause you to sin. It is better to enter life never having touched something or never having gone somewhere than to be thrown into Gehenna with a full bundle of life experiences. Be careful, little eyes, what you see: Do not look at your computer or your TV if it will cause you to sin, even if it’s only in your mind. If it will cause you to lust or to covet, shut it off. Failing that, throw it away. It is better to enter life with no TV and no computer than to be thrown into Gehenna with high-definition, high-speed, surround-sound access. Jesus says that, when it comes to sin and death, hands and feet and eyes are not as necessary as we think they are, and that physical death is nothing compared to eternal death. For the sake of the Name we bear, the Name He has given to us and put on us, He is relentless in the pursuit of sinners and in the pursuit of their sin, to cut it out and kill it. Because sin is never harmless. Even if you do not lose your salvation because of some particular sin, it always wounds, always hardens, always numbs. Sin always puts something between you and your God; there is no exception. And sin unconfessed will put an eternal something between you and God. So, no, Jesus will not take it easy. He will not lighten up. He will not give either the Twelve or us a break.