The cost of his misunderstanding.
Last week news from Pakistan reported what happened when a fifteen-year-old Muslim boy misunderstood the trick question of his cleric. He’d lifted his hand and mistakenly confirmed that he did not believe the teachings of the holy prophet. The cleric immediately accused the boy of blasphemy, and the congregation joined in. The boy fled home in disgrace, where he cut off his hand, placed it on a platter, and carried it back to the mosque to make amends.
The cleric was briefly detained for his part in driving the boy to commit such an act, but religious leaders protested. Even the boy’s parents praised their son’s dedication, saying he would be rewarded in eternity. The cleric was released with no blame. Disturbing news about the dangers of radical Islam? Yes. But what about the teachings of Christianity?
“And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell. And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.”
Jesus spoke these words, and those listening were probably not as appalled as we in the modern, Western world might be. After all, the law required an eye for an eye, and it required blood. An odd instruction from Deuteronomy 25:11-12 describes was to be done in a battle situation if a woman used a particular tactic in the defense of her husband. The law required the woman lose her hand, and no pity was to be offered.
Under grace, the ways of the Old Testament sometimes seem foreign to us. We don’t want to come down too hard on anyone. We hold to a “love the sinner but hate the sin” mentality, even though the Bible makes it clear God hates sinners. (Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11: 5, Leviticus 20:23, Proverbs 6: 16-19, Hosea 9: 15.) Judgement doesn’t fall merely on the sin, but on the sinner. Left on our own, we are doomed to remain enemies of God. Yet we don’t give much consideration to the seriousness of what sin does to a human being. Or to a nation. Or to a church. Jesus took it seriously. So did He mean what He said? Of course. He meant everything He said, or He wouldn’t have said it.
The reference point of the passage in Matthew is adultery. But the sin of adultery is not the act of a hand or an eye. Jesus was not telling us to gouge out the eye that looked on with lust, or cut off the hand that partook in the sinful act. He was teaching us a great penalty is required for sin. Lust does not begin with the eye or the hand, but in the mind and the heart. The offender is not a body part. Don’t miss the if—and if your hand or eye offends you…
On the other hand, if it’s yourself—your mind and your heart—committing the offense, then self-mutilation will not suffice. You need much more. Death is required. This is the hope of our redemption. The message of the Gospel to all who will hear. The penalty of death was paid on the cross.
Which leads to another revelation from the words of Christ:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Did Jesus have a change in attitude? There’s nothing easy about cutting off your own hand, and yet here He says we can take it easy. But once again, He’s making a point. It’s impossible for us to absolve our own sin. It was no leisurely feat for Him, but He did it. It was His yoke and His burden that rescued us. Not easy for Him, but easy for us. Now sin no longer owns us. We don’t have to pay for it. We can rest.
A boy in Pakistan sacrificed his hand for a misunderstanding. He believed it was the right thing to do. But no act will ever make right what lies in the depths of his heart. Off all our hearts. If you want to take care of your own sin, even chopping off your hand won’t do it. But if Christ takes care of it, then you can rest in His finished work.
If God hates sinners, should I hate this sinful boy who chopped off his hand? Of course not. Hate is not what brought Christ to sacrifice Himself. Love did. A paradoxical mystery: God hates sinners. And He sent His Son to die because He loves them. I can live with that. The yoke is easy and the burden is light. The penalty is paid. And I am free to love.