Christ Teaches Us to Rule our Hearts and Consciences before God

Epiphany 6 Thursday

Matthew 5:27-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old: You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you: Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery in his heart. But if your right eye offends you, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you that one of your members should perish than that the entire body should be thrown into hell. If your right hand offends you, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you that one of your members should perish than that the entire body should be thrown into hell.”

What does Christ mean when he so harshly demands that we tear out the eye and cut off the hand when it offends us? Should we mutilate ourselves, rendering ourselves paralyzed and blind? If this were so, we would have to kill ourselves and become our own murderers. For if we were to throw away everything that offends us, we would finally have to tear out the heart. But how would this differ from destroying the whole nature and God’s creature? Answer: Here you see
clearly that, in this entire chapter, Christ does not talk about the worldly order and existence and that all such verses you find now and then in the gospel–e.g., denying oneself, hating one’s soul, leaving everything–do not at all pertain to the government of this world or the emperor. They are not to be understood as provisions in a worldly legal code, as the lawyers talk about gouging out eyes, chopping off hands, and the like. Otherwise, how could this life and government continue to exist? Rather, Christ addresses here only the spiritual life and existence where you do not throw away eyes and hands outwardly and bodily before the world, but where you do so in the heart before God and where you likewise deny yourself and leave all things. For Christ does not teach how to use physical force or how to rule the body and possessions, but only how to rule the heart and conscience before God. This is why you must not draw his words into a legal code or the secular government. Similarly, in Matthew 19:12, he talks about eunuchs where he posits three kinds of eunuchs. The first and second kind–born like this by nature or made eunuchs by men–are the ones the world and jurists call eunuchs. But the third kind, those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, are a different kind of eunuchs. They are not eunuchs in an outward, bodily manner but are eunuchs in the heart or spiritually. They are not eunuchs in a worldly manner, but for the sake of the kingdom o f heaven. For Christ has nothing to do with what is worldly. Accordingly, we are to tear out eyes, hands, and hearts–and let go of everything–in a spiritual manner lest it offend us, while we at the same time live in this worldly existence where we cannot do without any of these things. Thus, the meaning of these verses is: When you feel that you look at a woman with evil lust, tear out this eye or sight, as something against God’s commandment, not out of your body, but out of your heart from where desire and lust originate; then you have torn them out rightly. For once the evil lust is gone from the heart, the eye also will not sin
or offend you. Instead, you will look at a woman with the same physical eyes but without lust; and it is for you as if you had not seen her. For the kind of eye Christ talks about is no longer present–the eye of desire or lust–although the body’s eye remains without injury. In summary, Christ talks about the kind of cutting off and tearing out that is not brought about by the hand or the executioner, but by God’s Word in the heart.

St. Louis ed., 7:446-448.

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