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Cut off your Hand!


Arguably the most bizarre command of Christ is found in Matthew 5:29-30, where he tells us to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands if they cause us to sin. "It is better to enter heaven blind and lame," he says, "than to have a healthy body and be cast into hell."

This passage is often quoted as proof that Jesus never meant for us to take him literally. To be honest, we've never plucked out an eye or cut off a hand ourselves, and we know of no saint who ever did. We have heard of a few mental patients who did, however!

So maybe Jesus did not mean for it to be taken literally... and if he did not mean for us to take that literally, then maybe he didn't mean for us to take anything else he said literally either.

No way! We cannot accept that line of reasoning. If Jesus is really the Son of God, then trying to make him conform to our finite wisdom is blasphemy.

Let's start with the mental patients. If you or I cut a hand off, wouldn't we be committed to a mental hospital too? So what if the hand choppers aren't all crazy?

And is it really true that people who are widely recognised as being sane have never cut off a hand or plucked out an eye? Check the medical records of any hospital and you'll find that amputations and organ removals are commonplace. Life threatening conditions like gangrene or cancer often lead people to take such extreme steps.

A railway worker in outback Australia was bitten on the hand by a deadly brown snake. He had no hope of getting to a hospital before the poison killed him. So he grabbed an axe and chopped off his own hand. He was not locked up. In fact, he was commended for his courage. Obviously he showed good sense too. The loss of a hand was of lower priority than life itself.

Try this experiment. Get a very sharp pocket knife and put it in your pocket or purse for one day, with the understanding that you will cut your hand off (or maybe just put a big gash in it) before you will let it lead you into sin. Just do it for one day. And see if you don't think very seriously about everything that you do that day.

With a knife in your pocket, you begin to confront the seriousness of sin. It is so easy to make spiritually fatal decisions without thinking about their consequences. Physical threats are usually visible and immediate, so we tend to act more quickly to avoid them. A chopped off hand (or even the threat of it) might be just what we need to get things back into correct perspective.

The whole context of Christ's command was to show us that, if physical life is worth such drastic action, then spiritual life is worth even more. Most of us would lack the courage to do what that railway worker did to save his physical life. But we should be much more motivated if we thought that our failure to act would mean eternal death. And in either case we should be able to recognise the good sense of such an action even if we lack the courage to do so ourselves.

Muslims practise such 'atrocities' as cutting off the hands of thieves; and Jews teach "an eye for an eye". America actually executes dozens of people each year in the name of morality. All Jesus asks is that we show this same kind of discipline on our selves. Is that so bizarre?

And now for the loophole you've all been hoping for. (Though, to be honest, if you don't go through the stage of being willing to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye, you may not qualify for the loophole.)

Obviously it is not your hand or your eyes that actually cause you to sin. Cutting a thief's hand off does not stop the greed that caused the theft in the first place.

What we need to think more seriously about is a 'heart' transplant! Jesus said "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be." (Matthew 6:21) And he says to forsake our treasure if we want to be his disciple. (Luke 14:33) Paul says the love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) So this is what we must cut out.

As extreme as amputation may be, most people would rather lose an arm or leg than give up their wealth and their source of income. But Jesus says to pick up that axe and hack away at the real causes of sin in your life. We think he is quite literal about forsaking the root of all evil.

Smash your pride. Pluck out your emotionalism. Cut off your visible means of support. So that you can begin (right now!) to live by faith in the eternal kingdom of heaven.

(See also The Root of All Evil.)

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