I recently spent the weekend with an old friend who was going through a series of losses on several fronts. His grandmother, his mother, and his dog had died within a year, and he separated from his wife and was undergoing divorce proceedings.
Meanwhile, there are two small children to take care of on a tight budget as he wraps up an advanced degree program. On the surface, the challenges seem overwhelming.
As a child growing up in an Evangelical context, Catholic depictions of Jesus fascinated me. One especially striking image was that of the Sacred Heart in which Christ touches his chest with his heart aglow.
Maybe it seemed archaic or too formal or stoic on the one hand or too simplistic or too melodramatic. Maybe it seemed too obviously metaphorical and therefore a little bit dangerous. But maybe the most striking aspect of it was it seemed too vulnerable.
So in one of the odder passages in the New Testament, Jesus said, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. There are two striking elements here, beyond the obvious self-mutilation seemingly being advocated.
Think of modern day Middle Eastern law, in which hands can still be cut off for stealing and women stoned to death for accusations of infidelity. For the listeners in the 1st century, this form of justice would be a common occurrence: violent justice enacted externally, by the political or local authority. Jewish law allowed for four forms of capital punishment in cases of adultery, murder, incest, and so on: stoning, beheading, strangulation and burning. Lesser crimes brought about lesser punishment, but still severe by modern standards.
As I write this, we’ve experienced maybe the craziest year in our national sports and politics with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Chicago Cubs, Leicester City, Donald Trump, and now the New England Patriots coming back from extremely long odds to pull off improbable upsets.
As a nation that came into being by defying a global empire, we love to root for the scrappy underdog (ok, so the Pats weren’t an underdog going in, but down 19, a comeback seemed improbable). We value extreme competitors and achievers, whether in academics, business, politics, or sports. We value those hard-won victories.