And if your hand causes your downfall, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell—the unquenchable fire…
And if your foot causes your downfall, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell…
And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…
I’m a child of the 70s. I gleefully paraded around in shirts with rainbows across the sleeves and bell-bottom jeans, and couldn’t wait to watch my favorite TV shows, which, of course, included Little House on the Prairie.
While there are a few episodes that still fill me with a warm sense of joy whenever I think of them or happen upon a rerun on the Hallmark Channel, there are also those that haunt me to this day. Every time I read today’s passage, I’m reminded of one of them.
In the episode called “A Matter of Faith,” the show’s patriarch, Charles, took his three daughters on a trip while his wife, Caroline, stayed behind to bake some pies for a church social. She was to meet up with them the next day.
What none of them realized was that a cut on her leg was festering into an infection that would soon threaten her life. In great pain, she turned to her Bible for comfort and came across Mark 9:45. Because she was reading it in the King James Version, she saw, “And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off.”
By this point, Caroline was sinking into delirium. She’d managed to get a kitchen knife and wrapped a tourniquet around her leg, preparing to do what she thought the Lord had commanded.
Watching this as a little girl, I was completely freaked out at the prospect of what could happen next. Our entire family breathed a deep sigh of relief when Charles, realizing something was wrong when Caroline didn’t meet them at the appointed time, rushed back home and burst in just in time to save his beloved wife.
Most of us don’t read the KJV anymore, so our understanding of this verse is a little different. Jesus said, “And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.”
What are we to make of that? Was Jesus really commanding His followers to become amateur surgeons and take incredibly drastic measures to keep themselves from sinning? Yes and no.
When my closest friend discovered she had breast cancer in 2011, my overwhelming desire was to get it out of her body. I couldn’t wait for her to have surgery because I wanted that tumor out of there. Her oncologist chose a path of several weeks of chemotherapy before surgery to attempt to shrink the tumor.
The news hit all of us like a ton of bricks. There’s just something about knowing that cancer is in there and has the potential to grow and spread disease throughout the body that can cause many torturous days and sleepless nights.
Where cancer is present, the action plan is obvious—cut it out and physically remove it from the body. But what about where sin is present?
Just as it would be ridiculous for someone with a tumor to simply sit around and hope it goes away, or promise to try harder to not have cancer anymore, it’s equally absurd to treat sin with such negligence. Sin is to the inner man what cancer is to the body. It’s dangerous and must be dealt with drastically.
Picture Jesus saying instead, “If your cable TV causes you to sin, cancel your subscription. If your friendship with that toxic person causes you to sin, sever the relationship. If your job puts you in a position where you are tempted to sin, then quit.”
We’re far less eager to take these types of drastic measures, aren’t we? We make all kinds of excuses to keep from doing what we know needs to be done, but in doing so we allow that infection to keep growing to the point that it just might kill us.
- What things in your life are causing you to sin?
- What measures can you take today to cut them out?
- What is stopping you from doing so?
- If you allow these things to stay, what might the consequences be in the next year? Five years? Ten years?
- If you choose to avoid drastic action, are you prepared to face these consequences?