How should we interpret Christ’s words when He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30)?
None of the recognized patristic interpretations of this phrase from the Sermon on the Mount demands the literal fulfillment of the words of Jesus Christ. The right eye and the right hand are often understood to represent impious people close to us, who can tempt us, lead us into sin, and divert us from the Christian path.
Theophylact of Ohrid offers insight by stating, “When you hear of the eye and the hand, do not assume that it refers to the physical members; otherwise, He would not have specified ‘right.’ These words refer to those who appear as friends but may harm us. The Lord advises us to ‘leave them. By doing so, we may save them if they come to their senses, but if not, at least we save ourselves. If you keep your love for them, both you and they may perish.”
However, this passage can be interpreted more broadly. The eye, as the organ of perception and the ‘mirror of the soul,’ and the hand, responsible for our actions, symbolize our thoughts, beliefs, and deeds. Referring to the right hand and eye highlights these inner attitudes and habits deeply ingrained in our personalities that hinder us from living the Gospel.
The Greek word ‘σκανδαλον,’ interpreted as ‘temptation’ here, refers to an obstacle or stumbling block that obstructs progress. If something in our habitual way of life seems valuable and necessary but hinders our spiritual growth, Christ advises us to give it up.
This act of renunciation is a painful and lengthy process. Even the Apostle Paul, who reached high levels of spiritual perfection, acknowledged his struggle, saying, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19). Motivation and perseverance are required, and we can find this motivation in the God-Man Jesus Christ.
For a Christian, the motivation to change and set priorities correctly can be found in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In union with Christ, we find the source of true, eternal life.
This connection with Christ occurs within the Church, the earthly institution established by the Savior, mystically constituting His Body. Through the sacraments of the Church, especially Repentance and the Eucharist, we enter into communion with the Lord, becoming one with Him and receiving the grace to bring about inner transformation.
Only through this union with Christ can we fulfill His command to eliminate whatever hinders our salvation.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds