Jesus’ Teachings Concerning Stumbling Blocks
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.
If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.Matthew 18:8-9 NASB
This week we have been studying Matthew 18 in Come Follow Me and I have had a few discussions with family members about these verses and the weight of the implications that Christ is getting at here are very challenging.
Imagine for a moment cutting off your own hand or foot; imagine plucking out one of your eyes. Can you imagine the pain and the horror? Think of how losing a key part of your body will affect the rest of your life.
Obviously, Jesus is not talking about bodily mutilation, but rather the seriousness of giving up “a part of yourself” that keeps you from “[entering] into life” even if it causes you extreme pain or makes you feel as if you have lost something that you feel is extremely valuable.
Yet the world would think it cruel to ask anyone to make such a sacrifice. Instead, people are persuaded to retain those parts of themselves because the world’s ideologies are “pleasing unto the carnal mind” (Alma 30:53) and they continue to teach them “even until [they] had much success, insomuch that [they] verily believed that they were true;” (Alma 30:53)
Jesus, who was a master of parables used common objects to help us understand greater ideas. What are some of the meanings behind hands, feet, and eyes?
The hand is traditionally a symbolic representation of our actions, or that which we choose to do or pursue. It functions as a symbol of power, whether good or evil. ‘The hand…is the corporeal manifestation of the inner state of the human being and…it expresses an attitude of the mind.'”Alonzo L. Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, pg. 43
“Hands are lightning rods for psychic energy. The same fingers that confer a blessing, stroke a child or tend a wound can smash a skull, drive viruses into computer systems or strike the match that sets a forest on fire.”Taschen, The Book of Symbols, pg. 380
“The executive role of the HAND in human life and the belief that it can transmit spiritual as well as physical energy has made it a symbol of power (spiritual and temporal), action, strength and protection.Jack Tresidder, Symbols and their Meanings, pg. 22
“The most common use of feet is as a symbol of how we live and what path we choose to follow (see 1 Samuel 2:9, Job 12:5, Ephesians 6:15), whether it be an avenue of wickedness or one of righteousness. They represent ‘one’s personal direction, mission, or goal.'”Alonzo L. Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, pg. 37
“…the earth to which our feet have such intimate contact is also the dust to which we return in death. […] the foot, located at the opposite end of the body from the self-enobling head, often signifies humility […] Instinctively feet know when to stay put or carry us away from danger even before the head has got the message.”Taschen, The Book of Symbols, pg. 424
“The feet are the most willing and patient servants of the body. They go all day at the bidding of the mind, and upon them rests the burden of the thought of materiality. The more we believe in matter, the greater the burden laid upon the feet and the more tired they become.”TruthUnity, Retrieved from https://www.truthunity.net/mbd/feet (April 24, 2019)
“Anciently, eyes were a symbol for the receipt of the light, knowledge, insight, and revelation (see D&C 77:4). […] To some degree, eyes are also a representation of our desires.”Alonzo L. Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, pg. 36
“The eye receives and emits light, looks out and looks in, is a window on the soul and on the world, revealing and perceiving, seeing through and true. It can also see too much, or nothing at all. The eye illuminates, understands, expresses, protects, scorches and stares.”Taschen, The Book of Symbols, pg. 352
“The ancient Israelites had very expressive eyes. Desire, love, hatred, pride, etc., were all expressed in the eye…”Jewish Encyclopedia, Retrieved from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5946-eye (April 24, 2019)
As one ponders some of the potential symbolism that each of these body parts conveys to the mind, what stumbling blocks do we have in our own lives that we can identify as hands, feet, and eyes that we must cut off or pluck out.
How does one cut off or pluck out such things? How can the act of parting with certain aspects of ourselves feel as terrifying and painful as cutting off your hand or foot or plucking out an eye? How hard would it be to do this to yourself?
Jesus’ symbolic language indicates that this process is not at all easy or pleasant and it may even be traumatic. His language also conveys the gravity and necessity of ridding ourselves of whatever keeps us from progressing and inheriting every blessing we are promised.
Remember that the world rejects the teachings of God and “These are the people who buy the life of this world at the price of the Hereafter.” (Qur’an 2:86)
God gives us weaknesses that we may be humble (Ether 12:27) and that principle of sacrifice is at the heart of our life’s purpose. Though we, like Abraham, may feel that God asking for something as precious as a son is too great of a sacrifice to ask for, remember that God had a ram prepared.