Matthew 18:7-9

Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9

There is much in this 18th chapter of Matthew about sin. Sin is that which shatters relationships between us and God, us and one another, and us and creation around us. Sin is disobedience and disconnection. It is selfishness and self-centeredness. It is what results when we put ourselves in the center of the universe, thinking everything revolves around us, and that we are the sole arbitrators of our own behaviors.

It is helpful to think of sin both as incurable disease and symptom. Sin as disease is a sign of the brokenness of all creation, the sense of separateness and alienation that plagues us. This deepest sense of sin is original sin, sin which reaches down to our roots. This is what Kierkegaard termed our “sickness unto death.” He argued we experience sin as despair and that it is an unavoidable aspect of human existence. As the Bible says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In this we are victims of sin, members of a fallen humanity.

But we are also perpetrators of sin. This is sin as symptom of that deeper reality. We cannot cure the disease but we do have the freedom to limit and battle its symptoms. Despair might drive a hungry person to desire to steal food from a grocery store but they still have the freedom to fight that temptation and seek food elsewhere.

What Jesus calls “stumbling blocks” are quite literally the things in life that trip us up, that knock us off the path of obedience, of doing the next right thing. Jesus isn’t going to let us off the hook. He understands our tendency to justify ourselves, minimize our sin, hide behind “but everyone’s doing it” or “I couldn’t help myself.” And he is rightly concerned that we not intentionally do that to others in order to elevate ourselves.

All of this is quite serious in our day-to-day lives. Certainly Jesus doesn’t literally expect that we will chop off feet or hands or pluck out eyes – but his words amplify the dangers of not paying attention to where we go, what we do, and what we see.

The news today is full of stories of people suffering the consequences of their sin. The words of Luke 8:17 keep coming back to us, “For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.” Lies, deception, sexual harassment, corruption – all are symptoms of the deepest realities of sin. Jesus wants us to realize that this stuff is serious. It poisons the wells of our lives.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, from the cross you spoke the words, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Such words are vivid reminders of your grace and mercy. They are also signs of how deeply you know us. Sometimes our sins are so deeply imbedded in us that we don’t realize what we are doing. Far more often, we know but we do it anyway. Forgive us for embracing stumbling blocks in our lives. Heal us from the pain over that which we have stumbled. And light the path so we walk with integrity, humility, and care. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 18:7-9”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    Comforting words, reassuring words!

  2. Sharon Says:

    Thank you and God bless you for this substantive journey in Matthew. Your phrase “the next best thing” has been a help to me since the first time it “hit” me when you wrote it. It is a guide from the Holy Spirit. God bless and keep you and your family.

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