Musing on Matt 5:27-30

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!

Meditation from “A Christmas Carol”

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green that it looked a perfect grove… and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney… In easy state upon this couch [of Christmas foods], there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
‘Come in!’ exclaimed the Ghost. ‘Come in! And know me better, man.’
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,’ said the Spirit. ‘Look upon me!’ Scrooge reverently did so. –Stave III of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

In this scene, Scrooge, after first confronting and meditating on scenes from his past, encounters the Second Ghost—a ghost, who by his very nature, is a spirit of generosity, hospitality, and charity. His first words to the bitter miser echo a message that Christ conveys to all: Come in! Come in! And know me better, man. Here, the Ghost of Christmas Present stands in for Christ, and Scrooge for every Christian, especially the fallen Christian, who is on a journey of conversion and Faith.

Come in! Come in! And know me better, man.

These are words of friendship, of welcome. When a stranger knocks on your door—for instance, while trick-or-treating—you provide them with what they need, but they remain on your porch or doorstep, keeping their distance. There is always a boundary in between. But, when a friend or family member arrives, you greet them eagerly and then invite them in. “Come in,” you say, as if they would have stayed on your doorstep otherwise. The boundary is no longer there; the threshold is broken.

When Christ encounters the Christian, there is a boundary, a disconnect; but, not on Christ’s side, rather on the Christian’s. We wish to keep our distance—our hearts visible but unapproachable, as a person’s house is visible through a screen door, yet we dare not enter it. We keep Christ on the porch when we encounter Him.

Yet, when He encounters us, it is the complete opposite. Come in, He says. It is not simply an invitation; it is a call, a vocation, a drawing in, a beckon. (c.f. Mark 2:14). When a person invites another into his group, he invites him in; he invites the other in his home. This is a word of exclusivity. One must be in the group or out of it. A man must be in his home or outside it. There is another way we use this term: to be in a relationship. Here, the Christian (Scrooge) is outside of that relationship with Christ through his sin and failed understanding. He wants to keep Christ at a distance. Yet, Christ beckons him, draws him back into the relationship.

Come in! Come back into this relationship with Me, Whom you have so long avoided and disregarded…

Come in! And know me better.

Now, Christ uses words which all Christians should ponder and keep throughout their lives, for it is the goal of our existence: to know, love, and serve God. In days past, to know someone was to have an intimate relationship, most often referring to a physical relationship between two persons. To know someone truly was to see them without deception, without veil, without limit. Yet, there is only so much that we can see as petty humans—a level of knowingness that we can never reach, simply because of our nature. We can never know a man the way Christ knows him. We can never see his soul, his mind, his inner being as Christ sees it—all in a simple moment, fully and completely, with total love and adoration. For, how many times do we misjudge a man because of our first impressions? How often does a loved one die, and still we learn about him and his life during the funeral rites? How often do we continually hate and scorn those whom we should love, or even those whom we do love?

And, moreover, how could we ever know God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as He knows Himself? (c.f. Matthew 11:27 and John 10:15) And, if we were to know and understand the Triune God in Heaven, it would only be through His Power of revelation to us, and not through our own powers or merit. And, that is why Christ calls the Christian to know him better.

In Spanish, there are two words to convey this understanding: saber (to know information) and conocer (to be familiar/acquainted with someone). One might say “I (saber) know English, and I (conocer) know my English teacher.” We cannot treat the Mystery of God as saber knowledge, a familiarity that may be gained through study and other physical means. Although, those avenues have their places, they are not the only nor the primary means we must take to know God better. Christ invites us to conocer know Him: to be familiar, to be intimate with Him.

In today’s world, we might look at a man’s Facebook profile and learn all about him: his family, work and school history, circles of friends, likes/dislikes, and so on. And, despite ever meeting that man, we could claim that we know him. But, others would argue—that man, particularly—that we didn’t know him simply because we read his Facebook profile, and we never could. We could grow familiar with his habits and his ways, but we couldn’t truly know him as person merely through physical, superficial means, as if he was a subject to be studied—to be known. We would only study the two-dimensional sheet of ice without realizing its third dimension and acknowledging it as an iceberg.

Before, we only saber knew Christ, and because of that, continued to keep Him at a distance and to guard Him from our hearts. Now, because He has called us and beckoned us, we must conocer know Christ and enter into a better relationship with Him—to allow Him in so that we might be familiar and intimate with him as best as we can in this life.

Leave your heart open to Me, that I may enter into it, and fill your soul with the Spirit of Knowledge, which you so desperately need to Love and to Serve Me…

Know me better, Man.

In the story, the Ghost does not call Scrooge by his given name, but rather says, “know me better, man.” In everyday life, this is common. “How are you doing, man?” Or, even, “Boy, he’s fast!” We refer to a person by what they are, rather than who they are; it’s similar to calling a pet collie “dog” rather than “Lassie,” or calling a stray cat “kitty.” It’s generic, rather than specific; probably because we are unfamiliar with the person/thing we are addressing. The cat is a stray, so we call it “kitty.” The guy at the gym might be a stranger, so we say, “Good game, man.” Yet, in most cases, especially when it is a casual gathering, it is not considered rude to address a person in this way, even a close friend. “Hey, man, I haven’t seen you in a long time.” Perhaps it is merely a quirk of our culture. (We recognize women similarly by addressing them as “woman” or “girl” in similar situations: “Girl, how have you been?” and so on.)

Yet, even in situations of familiarity, why do we allow such a generic address? We recognize one another as humans, yet why do we have to remind ourselves or them of this in our address? It is unclear. Perhaps, because it is endearing; or, more importantly, because it is a subtle, subliminal way to remind us of our common humanity—our fraternity.

But, for the Ghost, as for Christ, it is the addressing of a higher spirit to a lower being. We are the creation of God, mere dust of the earth. (c.f. Genesis 3:19) He calls us by what we are: Man. We are a race of creatures: the human race. Yet, He does not call us “slave” or “servant” or “dust”—even though we are all those things, as Scrooge is. But, neither does He call us “mister/madam,” etc. The Ghost’s address is not an elevated one, but rather, it is a common one. “Man.” It is a common, or ordinary, address, because it is an address that is common, or shared.

Because Christ became Man. God made man, and God became man. (c.f. John 1:14) And, in that respect, we have something in common: our humanity. It is a nature, an experience, an existence that we share not only with Christ, but with our brothers and sisters. Throughout Scripture, God has called man to be many things: dust, slaves, sons and daughters, servants, children, the Bride, disciples, beloved, and so on. And the field is very stratified, as Children of God is exalted title compared to servants.

Yet, despite our humble nature, but our exalted vocation, there is a word, an address, which lies perfectly in between all those names that God has given us: Man. We are dust, but we also have been given dominion over that dust. (c.f. Genesis 1:26-30) We are made the Image and Likeness of God, out of the earth; yet, God Himself became flesh, became Man. It is indeed a brotherhood, a brotherhood that we share with Christ: to be both dust and Children of God simultaneously. It is a calling, it is a beckoning.

Come in! Come in! And know me better, man.

Be with me! Be with me in a relationship of knowledge and love and service, so that you may fulfill your vocation: to be Holy as I am Holy, and I have set you apart to be Mine… (c.f. Leviticus 20:26)

Come in! Come in! And know me better, man.