You see, there are the "hard sayings" of Jesus, and then it seems there are the "weird sayings" of Jesus. And to me, what my friend referred to was one of these weirder ones: "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (cf. Mt. 5:27-30)
I'll chalk it up to the fact that I'm not a man that I've not spent a lot of time meditating on this particular passage. But the way these words struck me put me in memory of the seasons in my life when I agonized over the meaning of "If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." (Lk. 9:23)
Let him deny himself. Gouge out your eye.
What in the world is wrong with Jesus, anyway? It sure sounds like He'd be quite pleased if we destroyed ourselves for His sake.
And you know what? I've tried that. I've tried a religion that was all about holding my stinky humanity at arm's length while I got out the gasoline and the torch, determined to get rid of the culprit, which was essentially me. I think of it now as simply a spiritualization of an emotional tendency I had some years earlier towards suicide. I think of it as the basic form of my struggle against grace, this idea that God made some sort of heinous mistake when He made me, and that to right the wrong He made, I should make myself go away. Salvation, Marie's way, is self-destruction.
Religion turns into a mess when I start with my own twisted self-evaluation and work from there towards making me right myself. This religion starts and ends with, and completely revolves around, me. Me, in all my wretchedness, still convinced I should be able to get myself happy. And always failing.
The ever-patient Blessed Trinity looks on, heart about to explode with love, waiting for me to just look upward toward heaven, where I think I'm propelling myself.
Let's go back to that eye gouging verse. I'm no Scripture scholar, but it seems to me that Jesus is trying to get folks to recognize the disconnect between a do-it-yourself, me-centered approach and a Father, madly in love with His creation who has sent the Second Person of the Trinity in the flesh to look them in those eyes and announce Himself to them and beg them to come home to Him. Note carefully to what Jesus says: "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out." If... your eye causes you to sin. Another time when the disciples just don't get it when he talks about the law and defilement, Jesus makes it pretty clear: "For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy." (Mt. 15:19) It's pretty clear that it isn't your eye that produces sin, it's your heart. You want a program to save yourself? the Lord says, I've got a logical one for you. Here's a knife. Have at it. If you can't see anything, your sin will be resolved, right? Reading this, it sure seems to me the hearers are supposed to recoil from his suggestion, and say No Way!
But then what? That's the question I think Jesus is begging by His presence, by His Incarnation. But if you want to get at the root of the issue, if you want peace(Mk. 10:17), then know your eyeball is not at fault, it is your heart. And I am here because I'm calling to your heart! (Jn. 7:37) I'm saying, Come, follow me (Jn. 1:38-39). That tug that you feel when you hear me preach, (Jn. 1:41) that amazement (Jn. 7:21) you experience when you see me heal someone (Mk. 7:37) -- that 's divine in origin (Jn. 10:37-38). Answer the tug! (Mt. 11:28) Give me your heart! You want your heart fixed?(Jn. 14:15) Well, I made it. Give it to me, run after me (Jn. 7:37-38). Together, we'll go Home.
And what about this whole matter of denying oneself? It cannot mean that God's desire is that I hate, mutilate, destroy, or kill myself, literally, or just hate myself a bit seasonally, like during Lent. Jesus teaches us that it is the evil thief who "comes to steal, kill and destroy," but that Jesus comes that His flock "might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). It's not just that God doesn't want us dead. It's that He really, really wants us to be fully alive!
As I see it, to deny myself, as Christ teaches me, is to forsake my privately produced program for salvation. God, I've had so many. They're like potions. Take this much religious stuff, pick this group of people and figure out how to feel two steps morally superior to them, interact with people in a way that makes me feel all smug, mix well and take two gulps daily. Feel terrible in these prescribed ways. Ignore that reaction your heart has to all this; it doesn't matter. What does it know? Measure up against a standard you have decided, whether impossibly high or ridiculously low. On and on, ad nauseum.
It's all idolatry. It's all the deadly religion of me and has nothing to do with Christ. And Jesus says, deny it. Leave behind all your attempts to save yourself. It's all a bunch of shit.(Phil. 3:8) Follow Me! I'm the one who made your heart, who knows your heart, who loves your heart. If you want your heart back and you want to live from it, then come, follow me. That's what I want, too. I want you to be you, to be happy, to be whole, to be alive, to be human. With two eyes, to see My face!
Today I was listening to a teaching John Michael Talbot gave his community a couple of weeks ago. He said, “When you die to yourself, you are not going to become nothing. You are going to become something new.” This is the promise of Christianity, and we each have to test it with our lives. The process, of course, is not instantaneous. John Michael went on to talk about how the Potter goes about fixing us (remember, it's His way, not mine!). When we are cracked, in a wrong shape, the potter will re-wet the clay by His Holy Spirit, make us malleable again and then take us down to nothing. We become like a lump. And then, He reshapes us, resurrects us into something new, and (this is my favorite part) nothing is wasted. Every single bit of us that is from God gets put back into that new creation that He makes of us when we give our lives to Him. God did not make a heinous mistake in creating me who I am. I just need to let it all go into His hand, especially the bits I wish I didn't have to think about putting into His hand because I hate them so much. As I give it all over, He makes of it something of His glory. Then I live His life here, and share in His life for eternity.
If we do not live as if glory is real, are we not living as Christian agnostics, and missing all the good stuff?