You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. –Matthew 5:27-30
Musing on Personal Temptations from Mt 5:27-30
I know a man who drives a sports car. He loves it. He likes to drive it around the corners, and take the highways to work because he has more horsepower than other drivers. He feels invincible in his little roadster.
But, he also has a problem with the nerves in his arms. He had it before he got the car, but – although he likes to think that driving his car makes him happy – it actually makes the pain in his arms worse. Trying to handle his little roadster does him more harm than good at the end of the day, even though he will not admit it.
So is temptation and sin for many people. We like to think that we are invincible, that we can handle temptation – we like to think we have strong enough wills to master our desires and stop before crossing the threshold between temptation and sin.
But, truly, it does us more harm than good – like the man and his sports car.
For many of us, there is a particular sin (or multiple) that – for physical, familial, psychological, social, or political reasons – we, sadly, struggle with more so than others.
Jesus gives the example of a man who looks at a woman lustfully, because men – by their physical and physiological design – are attracted to a woman’s appearance. While God created us good, and those desires to be natural, it is when we dwell on them and with them that we lead ourselves into sin.
I would give the example of someone who grew up in a family (and society) where alcohol was not consumed temperately, but was abused, and its abuse had negative consequences. Alcohol is in and of itself a good thing. The Apostles drank wine at the Last Supper; Jesus turned water into wine for his first miracle. But, like a hammer or a car, it is a tool – it can be used wisely, but it can also be abused.
Just as, for most people, driving a sports car isn’t a painful task, it is for the man mentioned above. Similarly, some people are not (greatly) tempted by a certain thing; while, for others, it is a very serious, personal temptation.
Continuing the example, for someone who struggles with a history of alcohol abuse, being around alcohol or people drinking – even moderately – is a temptation that could lead him into sin. While his friends might goad him, or perhaps encourage him to overcome his temptations and drink, it would be wiser if he didn’t.
If your right hand makes you stumble [sin], cut it off and throw it from you. Jesus would say that, no, you shouldn’t even surround yourself with things that could lead you into sin.
Oftentimes we try to convince ourselves, “No, I’m strong enough. I can resist.” If we do, it is only through God’s Grace. And, while we might resist it the first time, are we willing to risk it a second, third, or fourth time?
And, while we’re in the midst of trying to shake off our own personal temptations, we might forget that our friends could struggle with them also. Maybe we mean well when we encourage our friends to overcome their temptations and join us in something they’re reluctant to do, because they’ve struggled with it before (or believe they could). And, if even if we have strong wills and can resist, what if our friends aren’t as strong as we believe we are?
However, a personal relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not something I would want jeopardized because I surrounded myself, or my friends, with our greatest personal temptations.
Yes, we can overcome our own personal demons, temptations, etc. But, only through Christ’s Grace and Strength. Will God provide if we ask Him? Yes. But, if we are being greatly tempted, we might not consider asking at all.
So, perhaps it is better to do as our Savior advises us: If your right hand makes you stumble [sin], cut it off and throw it from you.
If there is a thing, an event, a person (or people) that is causing us to sin, we should avoid that thing/event/person as much as possible. And, if we are forced into contact with it, we should ask for God’s Strength, Grace, and Mercy; and then get away from it as soon as we can.
Let us pray that we surround ourselves with good people, places, and things, so that we can avoid those personal temptations as much as we can. Preserving and strengthening our relationship with God is the greatest good; but sadly, we might be tempted to break that amazing bond for very stupid reasons – if we did, we would be trading our Heavenly Inheritance for fool’s gold.
Yet, praised be God for His Boundless Love and Mercy!