Cut it out!
That’s really what Jesus is saying with all this hyperbole about cutting off body parts. Not “cut it off,” but “cut it out.” Just stop it! Don’t settle for a “good enough” righteousness, but live in God’s kingdom, now. After all, Jesus frequently reminds us that God’s kingdom isn’t just a here-after realm, but here-and-now, rooted in this moment, right now, when we are called to help bring about: “your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven.” And we bring about God’s kingdom by attending to what’s going on in our minds and our hearts as well as the actions we take.
The reason Jesus is so passionate about our inner attitudes as well as our outward behavior is that he innately understood what quantum physics, field theory, entanglement theory, and biology have all come to acknowledge: that whether we recognize it as God or call it quantum vacuum, we all flow from a single source, which means that we all share an underlying energy field that is affected by something as subtle as changes in our body language or our body chemistry. As one scientist puts it: “We can no longer view our thoughts as the private, self-contained working of a single brain. Every thought we have, every judgment we hold, impacts reality in a measurable way. There is no insignificant thought, feeling, word, or action. Our energy is intertwined.”
And that’s why Jesus is so concerned about what we let ourselves dwell on – not only as it affects us, but those around us, and ultimately the world.
So, an example: during the last eight years of political upheaval, and exacerbated during pandemic isolation, I spent way too much time on Facebook. I joined Facebook originally to stay in touch with college classmates, then with grandchildren, but by 2016 it had spiraled into this messy thing where uninvited posts began showing up. And I began “liking” some of the political ones I agreed with. Then, of course, I got more, and they began to include angry and even obscenely funny ones: “Oh,” I’d think, “I couldn’t bring myself to say that, but I’m glad she did.” And again, I’d click the “like” button. So of course I got sent juicier and nastier posts that made fun of or wished terrible things to befall public figures with whom I disagreed.
Words of hatred and images of rage lodged in my brain, stayed with me when I closed my laptop, generating a negative energy around me. Rick finally said to me one morning, “Could we not talk politics before breakfast?” And I don’t even want to remember the tormented thoughts that haunted me in the middle of the night. When the election cycle started up again for 2022, I couldn’t do it any more. I stopped looking, stopped clicking. I didn’t want to be consumed by the anger and hate that the worst of the posts stirred up in me. I still read the news, followed various commentators, and I still have my Facebook account. But you know what? I recently realized that I don’t get those posts any more. Because I stopped observing them, they went away (thanks to online behavior targeting), and I observe a more generous and hopeful world. What shows up now on my Facebook feed: family, friends, a few former students, some poetry and art, images from the Webb telescope, and St. Paul’s. I “like” all those things, and I can now walk away from the computer – even after reading the news – with more positive energy to tackle the work God sets before me day by day. A hundred years ago, Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin envisioned the earth surround by what he called the noosphere, a blanket of thought that surrounded the earth like atmosphere and which is affected by our thoughts and intentions as well as by what we do. Wired magazine even compared the noosphere to the internet, where the stroke of a key in a far distant place affects people a world away, for good as well as for harm.
What we focus on – what we let our minds dwell on and our hearts cling to – matters. The intent of the law, which Jesus says abides forever, is for fullness of abundant life, free from anger and resentment and distractions and distortions. So when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment,” he’s telling us not to harbor hateful thoughts about someone; not to speak or write hateful words in person (or on social media); to stop clicking “like” on hateful memes and posts. His words on divorce and lust are also admonitions to think and act in ways that respect the dignity of other human beings, ways that lead us toward the Kingdom of God instead of into what Christian Wiman calls “the little lightless caverns of our mind.” It’s bad for our own health to harbor negative thoughts, and we now know scientifically as well as theologically that our energy affects those around us – around the world. Send negative energy into the world, and the world becomes a darker place. Conversely, send hope into the world, and that positive energy brings us closer to God’s kingdom. (Jesus, of course, calls us to choose hope – and faith and love – and not only in our hearts but in the actions that we take.)
Beatrice Bruteau, scientist and philosopher, puts it this way: “The Kingdom of God is not something in the far future that is suddenly going to come down from heaven and magically turn everything right. You yourselves are IT. It’s in you and among you; you have to do it or it will never come.”
What Bruteau is saying – what Jesus is telling us – is that we are the ones to set about creating the realm of God here on earth, to carry forward what Jesus began. We are IT. And it starts in here, inside.
The Kingdom of God is within us, and our task is to cut out whatever prevents us from establishing it here on earth, as it is in heaven.