This is something Jesus is aggressively serious about!
There is a typical move of Jesus where he will use shocking, attention-getting, images that will jolt you awake. Imagery where the listener has no option but to determine that Jesus is deathly serious about what he is saying in that moment.
For instance, I am sure even you are taken aback when Jesus tells you to gouge out your eye and to cut off your hand it it is causing you to fall away from God. This is coercive language that should shock you; it should shake you. Is Jesus telling me it would be better to self-mutilate myself than to continue this thing I am doing?
And if we could sit Jesus down in a chair and ask him. . .well he would probably ask us a bunch of questions in return and we wouldn’t necessarily get a straight answer, because that is how Jesus does things. He shakes you, he makes you think, but regardless this is very serious to him.
There are two instances when Jesus uses this aggressive imagery to illuminate his seriousness:
When he is talking about lust (Matt. 5:27-30).
When he is talking about disrupting the unity of his followers (Matt. 18:6-9).
Personally, I do not think that self-mutilation is the end result that Jesus is aiming for in either of these instances. Clearly, Jesus is leading us to address something deeper. In fact, he has already addressed where the real issue is: in the heart. Is tearing out you eye going to fix what is happening in your heart? No! But, now he has your attention.
Jesus is actually conjuring up something far more profound with this imagery that you would pick up on if you were well rehearsed in the poetry of the Old Testament.
If you go to Psalms or Proverbs and you circle every time “eye,” “hand", and “foot” are used you will get what I am about to say. These are very Jewish images about how see the world and people (eye), what you do based off how you see people (hand), and what you do over time reveals the kind of path you are on and the direction you are headed (foot).
Think about this for a moment. Is there is something in your life that seems indispensable to you; it seems like it is actually a part of you. If there is something that seems so inwoven to your being that it is just a part of who you are, but it is destroying you, Jesus says get rid of it.
And Jesus uses this violent language to remind you that these things that are slowly destroying you and the people around you is effecting you deeper than you could ever imagine.
Your physical eye is not what Jesus cares about, but how you view the world and the people living in it is of the upmost importance to him. Regardless if you have two hands, one hand, or no hands, Jesus cares more about what you are actually doing in the world and for others. Jesus does not care about your feet, he cares about where those feet are headed.
Do you see what he is doing here?
Jesus is always looking at something deeper inside of us.
Jesus is more serious about the injustices in the world than we are.
While we want to eradicate murder and thievery, Jesus wants to eradicate hate and greed from the human heart.
While we want to eradicate sex-trafficking and child sex-slavery, Jesus wants to eradicate lust from the human heart.
While we want to eradicate racism and genocide, Jesus wants to eradicate pride, contempt and rage from the human heart.
Jesus is more serious about evil in the world than we are.
Jesus wants us to take his teachings with the upmost seriousness, and not just what is seen on the surface: lust, gossip, greed, hate. He wants us to realize that there is something deeper at work. How you view the world, how you interact with the world, and the direction you are headed are what really matter to Jesus.