Pastoral Perspectives

Time To Cut It Off?

Recently, news broke that actress Angelina Jolie had undergone a voluntary double mastectomy because she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene which sharply increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. For Jolie, her decision ultimately came down to her children. She chose surgery so that in her own words, “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

Although not everyone will agree with Jolie’s drastic actions, her decision to be proactive is nevertheless commendable, especially since it was out of concern for her children. After all, for a woman, there is something trying about losing one’s breasts – which are generally associated with one’s femininity and sexualised notion of beauty – as compared to losing one’s appendix. In the case of Jolie, her health and family mattered more than what surgery may do to her Hollywood image.

Interestingly, in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark, there is some teaching about the mutilation of one’s body parts, in this case, in order to save one from eternal condemnation. In Matthew 5:29, Jesus instructed his listeners that “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” As much as this may sound extreme to our modern day ears, Jesus was simply using intentional overstatements or hyperboles, a method commonly employed by the religious teachers of his days, to drive home a point.

Here, Jesus’ words serve as a sober warning concerning the severity of sin, which will lead to hell. And when one considers the extent that Jolie was willing to go in order to possibly extend her life, then perhaps Jesus’ seemingly radical teaching does make sense. After all, those who profess to be Christians should not be flirting with sin as if there are no consequences to ourselves and those around us.

Nevertheless, we can be sure that Jesus was not expecting to see a bunch of mutilated Christians. Instead, what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand was that while our eyes and hands are of great importance to us, our priorities must be about God and what is to be of eternal significance.

More importantly, Jesus does not mean that we should literally cut off our body parts because the literal removal of them cannot remove the root of sin in our hearts. At the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus taught that it was not only the physical action of committing murder (Matt 5:21-22) or adultery (Matt 5:27-28) that constitutes sin and makes one guilty before God. At the heart of God’s Law, it was always a matter of one’s heart, of one giving in to the wrong inner passions. Thus, when one harboursmalice and bitterness or simply lusts with his eyes, he is just as guilty of committing murder or adultery and therefore culpable of God’s judgment.

In contrast to the Pharisees who were concerned about outward conformity to God’s Law and earning man’s praises, Jesus was revealing the true intent of God’s Law. God’s Law was meant to give us a glimpse of God’s holiness and to demonstrate that none of us can be saved by a righteousness of our own. Undoubtedly, if we are honest with ourselves and examine our hearts and minds, we will find that all of us stand indicted (Romans 3:23) and are terribly afflicted with “disease” of sin.

But thanks be to God, He has provided humanity with a rescue plan as Christ declared, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick” (Matt 9:12-13). Christians are to be mindful that the only righteousness that matters, the only righteousness that truly saves is a righteousness that is imputed or graciously given to us because of Christ’s righteousness. And whenever we fail, instead of contemplating to cut off our eyes or hands, let us turn to God in humble confession and ask for His forgiveness and strength to resist temptation.

As Christians, we seek to obey and love God because by God’s grace, the inclinations of our hearts and minds have been changed. The Holy Spirit has come into our lives to bring about transformation and sanctification. We are not trying to ensure a ticket to heaven by surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20). Besides, when one is a born-again Christian, why would he want to love sin that much that he would go to hell for it?

Pastor Edwin Wong

June 16, 2013