‘I just hate it when He talks like that’

A columnist hopes Christ’s words leave open room for a comeback when he makes mistakes

By George Valadie

A confession: the homily wasn’t speaking to me. So, I found myself leafing through the parish bulletin from this church we were visiting before also thumbing through their missalette, looking ahead to Gospels down the road.

Most told of Jesus doing what He does best—teaching—when I came across one of those lessons I always hate to hear.

“… If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off … And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off … And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

I just hate it when He talks like that.

Because I have sinned. And my body remains intact.

The four Gospels claim to be quoting the words of Christ. I understand and accept that. However, I also feel confident in my belief that not a one of His followers were taking dictation as He taught His lessons. None took notes. No one wrote anything down—at least not in the moment, not until later.

They had likely come to understand He was someone special, but there’s no way they knew He would change all of the history that had yet to happen. Recording His life could wait. If need be, they’d recall it all from memory.

So, how accurate is accurate? My point is, I don’t know if what He said is exactly what He said. But regardless of any debate about factual authenticity, my guess is He said something pretty darn close.

In addition to the impossible challenge He gave us all, what also bothers me is that none of the biblical accounts ever relate the follow-up questions. And I know there had to have been at least a few.

These guys were human after all. Their Teacher was, too, but they knew He was more. Still, Son of God or not, some of what He said must have been tough to swallow.

Don’t you know they had to have been taken aback when He taught lessons such as these. I have to believe Peter might have said, “Lord, since we left that last town, some of us guys have been talking along the way, and they asked me to ask you … back there, did you actually mean for us to pluck our own eyes out?”

Or maybe John might have asked for a clarification, “Jesus, are you serious? Do you mean that literally? It’s been hard for us to get all these lessons as it is.

“First, there was the ‘forgive your enemies’ thing, and you yourself know how brutal the Romans have been to us. Then there was the ‘forgive them 70 times seven’ part. And now this!”

Thomas had to have some doubts, “Christ, we’ve all been tempted; you’ve been tempted. And I understand the point you’re making about not giving in. But none of us are as good as you, and let’s be honest, there is no temptation if it doesn’t come through our eyes and ears. We’re still not clear where we’re going, and now—if this is the deal—I’m not sure we have any real hope of getting there?”

We all know Jesus often taught with parables He seldom explained. More often than not, He left them hanging in the air to be interpreted by whomever had gathered to listen.

Most of my interpretations have come from one pastor or another on the Sunday mornings of my past. They’ve studied Scripture way more than I, but still, as I’ve gotten older, there’s been an occasion or two when I’ve found myself arguing with Father’s take on one parable or another.

I think it’s OK to have a difference of opinion.

But this … this is no parable. This is no story with a point. This is plain and clear-cut and straight from the hip. And I hate it when He talked like that.

We’re used to people in our lives issuing stern edicts all the time. They come from our boss or our supervisor or our spouse. But we generally have the advantage of seeing them issued live and in person. We know right away if they were serious or snickering or had a coy smile in their delivery.

We generally know if those in charge were just trying to make a point or offering a suggestion. Experience tells us what they can and will do if we don’t follow their directives. So, we act accordingly.

But we weren’t there for Christ’s edict, and there’s no one left to ask. What’s worse: we have no way of knowing what has awaited those who didn’t or couldn’t live up to His message. We have no way of knowing what awaits us.

It’s just us and His words. The words of God.

Thinking about it, I could see He might have meant precisely what He said. Why wouldn’t He? He was trying to explain the kingdom of God to people who had no clue, no idea of where or what it was. Much less how they could get there.

The world to whom He preached was in need of the promise He offered. But they were also in need of a path to that promise. He brought that, too. Sometimes, He used stories. Sometimes, I figure He just gave it to them straight.

I understand the commandments and struggle enough keeping those. It’s not that I want or plan to fail, but I’ve been hoping there is room for that failure when I do. Temptation has won more often than I care to admit.

So, I’ve been hoping our mistakes don’t rule out any chance of a comeback.

I hate it when He talks like that.

Is it OK if I hope He was just making a point?

Dear God—The reward you offer is eternal, so I understand the effort you require must be tough. Once again we ask, “lead us not into temptation.” Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga and author of the newly released book “We Lost Our Fifth Fork … and other moments when we need some perspective.”

Comments 1

  1. I understand your revolution at these words of our Lord. It seems difficult to wrap ones brain around such a direct statement from a loving God. And, I’m sure those in our culture of differing ideology would say that this is nonsense. However, Jesus was making a point about the gravity of sin and the consequences of leading a sinful life. We, as Christ followers, are called to a way of life that walks the path of righteousness or right way. The same path our Lord walked. Walking with Christ in our church is to walk by love, which is not emotion but our will. I love God therefore I will walk in His way. There are difficulties within each of us. Stumbling blocks that we must overcome. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is best received in Reconciliation. So, looking at our Lord’s statement at this point we can see that He is serious about sin, we all are sinners, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us on the path of Holiness.
    Perhaps one hates it when our Lord says what He means, but He doesn’t leave us there to wonder about His motive. He loves us always.

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