No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of helli with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’ For everyone will be tested with fire. Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.
These words of Jesus have long troubled me. Over the years, I have heard them (and those similar) used to justify all sorts of punitive behavior of one Christian toward another, or of Christians toward “unbelievers.”
In reading the words of Nik Ansell in the Afterword to Bradley Jersak’s Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem, I came to the realization that these and other prophetic words of Christ are really not meant at all as steps in the guidebook for discipleship. Not at all. They are words of judgment being passed on an unfruitful Israel, and words of warning for those who likewise fail to take God’s mission statement seriously. (cf. cursing the fig tree, etc.)
I could belabor this point by citing scriptural references about the reasons Sodom and Gomorrah and historical Jerusalem were destroyed; but I won’t. Because I think God is interested in something much bigger than that.
But I’d love a debate on the topic… if you’re up for a challenge. After all, you be the judge. What the heck do I know? I could be wrong.
But here’s the challenge. For each hour we spend debating the issue, we spend an equal hour volunteering at a homeless camp or AIDS hospice. How’s that sound?
Love first, ask questions later.