Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Plucking Out Occasions of Sin

Plucking Out 
Occasions of Sin

          “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”  These are some of the words from last Sunday’s Gospel.  Did Jesus really mean them?  I think He did, because what He says next is true, “Better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.”
          Why, then, do we not have a world full of one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed Catholics hobbling around?  First, sin comes from the will, not the hand or the eye.  Jesus clearly did not intend for anyone to literally cut off his hand or pluck out his eye.
          However, by using such powerful language, He is telling us that we have to be willing to let go of anything that separates us from God, no matter how precious.
          St. Matthew gives this teaching with more specifics, and in his Gospel, we hear Jesus instruct us that we should cut off our “right hand” and pluck out our “right eye.”
          In reading about this passage I learned that these had meanings in the ancient world similar to our phrases, “the apple of one’s eye,” or one’s “right hand man.” 
          A person’s “right eye” apparently referred to a thing that was very precious to him.  A person’s “right hand” was a relationship that was of supreme importance.
          Jesus is warning us that if there is a thing, or a relationship, or anything else that is an occasion of sin for us, we have to cut it off, to let it go.  It is better for us to let go of these occasions of sin, and our attachment to them, rather than hold on to them, and enter Gehenna, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
          Matthew Kelly tells a story of a Native American child from a particular tribe with a custom that when the boys reached the age of 15, they were to fend for themselves in the woods for two weeks.  Surviving on their own, they would return to the tribe as men.
          It seems one boy went out to the woods and for the first few days, he did okay.  Then, however, he was unable to find food.  After a few days without eating he saw a small mountain which he thought he might climb to get a better view of the land and see if he could find something to eat.
          At the top of the mountain the boy came across a rattlesnake.
          “Boy,” said the rattlesnake, “I am lost up here.  Will you please lead me down the mountain?”
          “No,” the boy replied, “I know what you are.  You’re a rattlesnake.  And I know what you can do to me.  You can bite me and even kill me.”
          “Boy, I can see you are very hungry.  I know where there is food down the mountain.  If you’ll lead me to the bottom, I can take you to some food.”
          “No!  I know what you are.  You’re a rattlesnake, and I know what you can do to me!”
          “I will not bite you, Boy, I promise.  I will lead you to the food, and I will not hurt you.”
          The boy thought about it.  He was very hungry.  “You promise?” he asked the snake.
          “I promise.”
          So the boy agreed.  He led the snake down the mountain and sure enough the snake led him to some food.  The boy ate and ate until finally he lay there stuffed.  Then, suddenly, the snake leaped out and bit him.
          “You promised!” cried the boy as he wailed in pain.  “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!”
          The rattlesnake gave him a wicked smile and said, “You knew what I was when you took me with you.”
          The point: What are we playing around with that’s eventually going to bite us?  What are the rattlesnakes that we are keeping with us, knowing that ultimately they can kill us?
          Jesus is asking us this week to search our lives and identify those things, those occasions of sin that we think we are in control of, but are ultimately leading us away from Him.  And He is telling us to cut them off.
          We have to let go of them.  Maybe it’s a relationship, or our computer, or a business arrangement, or our television, or our favorite music.  Whatever it is that causes us to sin, we have to let it go.  It may be painful at first, but we will be on the path to life, and rather than being maimed, we will be truly made whole.