What gets you angry? Sometimes everyone gets angry. Sometimes people get pushed to the limit. There is the story of this small guy who was a truck driver. He parked his semi at the highway cafe and went in for lunch. While he was sitting there perched on a stool, three burly motorcyclists came in and began picking on him. They bumped into him and almost knocked him off the stool. Sitting on either side of him they reached across him and knocked his water glass and spilled water onto his plate. They poured salt into his coffee. Then finally they grabbed his food away and laughed in his face. The truck driver said nothing, got up, paid for his food and walked out. The cyclists laughed and slapped each other on their backs. A couple of minutes later they were still chortling about it and said to the waitress when she came by with coffee, “Boy, that guy sure wasn’t much of a man, was he?” The waitress replied, “No, I guess not. He’s not much of a truck driver, either,” she said pointing out the window. “On his way out he ran over three motorcycles.”
What gets you angry? Most of us get angry when we see bullies pushing around weaker people and it makes us angry people taking advantage of those who cannot stand up to them. In our gospel lesson today we see some things that make God angry. Jesus said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” That may strike you as an odd picture but the disciples knew exactly what he was talking about. Some of them had seen it with their own eyes. There had been a rebellion some years ago and the Romans captured the Jewish rebel leaders. They tied stones around their necks and then pushed them into the Sea of Galilee while the entire town was watching. The Romans had no patience or mercy for rebels or rebellion. Jesus wants his disciples to know that God will not have patience with this sort of behavior.
What was Jesus talking about though? What does he mean about putting a stumbling block in front of a little one? Jesus is not speaking literally; he is speaking spiritually, metaphorically. A little one is a person who is young in his or her faith, that is, who has just recently begun to believe in Jesus. And stumble here means to sin. Jesus is telling his disciples that they had better not say or do things that would tempt this young believer to sin. Thinking about the consequences should cause each of us to wonder, “How can I tempt someone else to sin?” We do this by what we say or by what we do, in other words, by our examples. So we need to be careful so that people who may be watching us will not do something bad because they see us doing something bad. We don’t want others to mimic our bad behavior or our bad attitudes. This seems to be an extreme response doesn’t it? What is the big deal; it is just a sin, right? I am reminded of the boy who was earning nothing but ‘F’s in public school, so his parents decided to send him to a Catholic parochial school. All of the sudden in this new school, the boy’s grades shot straight up. Until a short time later he was earning straight ‘A’s. One night at the dinner table his parents asked him, “Son, look at you now; you are earning straight A’s. Why were you doing so badly in public school?”
Their son replied, “I am doing better now because I know they are really serious about school here. The first day I walked in I saw that they had this guy nailed to a plus sign!”
They were serious about school; Jesus/ God is serious about sin. We tend to assume his attitude about sin is the same as ours and we don’t think sin is a very big deal. We see Jesus kind, patient, and forgiving and we forget that there are things that really make him angry. Sin and those things that lead to sin are at the top of the list. Why does sin make Jesus so angry? Sin destroys people’s lives, relationships, and causes all kinds of pain. Sin, if left unchecked, will get a grip on a person and then lead that person into eternal hell. This is why sin makes Jesus angry.
Hell is mentioned 22 times in the New Testament. Fourteen of those 22 times Jesus is the one who brings it up. Notice that here Jesus is talking to his disciples. He is not talking to bad guys, thieves, murderers or prostitutes. He is talking to his disciples, people like us—the good guys! He tells them, “If your hand causes you to stumble, that is to sin, cut it off; if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; and if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. Why? Why this extreme reaction? Because Jesus says it is better to have a body part missing than to end up in hell.
Does Jesus mean we supposed to be cutting off our hands, our feet and poking out our eyes? Let me make this clear—no—do not cut off your hand, your foot, nor poke out your eye. This is not what Jesus was teaching. The Jews understood that sin is committed by means of one’s body. People will sin with their hands. Or a person may go someplace via their feet and commit sin. Or a person may look at something which will cause him or her to sin. So we need to be aware of when we sin. Is it when I am doing something with my hands or when I go someplace or when I am looking or reading something? Jesus says to cut that off, stop it! Metaphorically cut it off—actually cut off the activity or cut off going to that place or cut off looking at whatever it is that is causing you to sin. Jesus is using hyperbole in order to drive home how important it is to stop sinning and in particular stop doing those sins that become habitual sins, which become habits.
Jesus warns us that we can lose our very souls. God does not smile at our habitual sin. Jesus teaches us here that sins can get such a hold on our lives that they will separate us from God. Our desire to do a particular sin can grow so strong within us that we will refuse to give it up that we will chose to do that sin no matter what God says in the Bible about it. And when we do this we are choosing our sin over God; we are choosing death instead of life. We are choosing hell instead of heaven. Is this frightening? Yes, it is supposed to be. It is supposed to shake us up; it is supposed to cause us to take another look at the sins we allow and dismiss within us. C.S. Lewis once wrote that in the end we either say to God, “Your will be done.” Or if we continue to refuse to give up our sin God says to us, “Your will be done.”
It is not hard to be angry at people bullying others and taking advantage of the weak. And it is a good thing to be angry at sins in our society and to denounce them. But here today in our gospel text, Jesus is pointing his finger at me, at you and he warns us; he seriously warns us. Because of sin, our sin, he did get nailed, not to a plus sign but to a cross.
It is serious. Sin makes God angry. What gets you angry? Maybe you and I should learn to be upset about sin in our own lives and work at cutting it out. Amen