Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43).
What if your hand is causing you to die? Cut it off!
On April 26, 2003 Aron Ralston, a young man and expert Aspen climber, got trapped as he was hiking in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. An 800-pound boulder shifted onto his arm as he climbed through a narrow ravine. Five days later, after running out of water and wondering if rescuers would ever find him, Aron cut off his arm with a pocket knife. He repelled down the mountain and hiked 5 miles before he was found by a Dutch vacationing family.
Terry Mercer, a helicopter pilot with the Utah Highway Patrol, said after seeing Aron, “I’ve never seen anybody that had this much desire and this much tenacity to stay with it and stay alive.”
Radical decision. Painful action. Continuing life. These are part of Aron Ralston’s story. Jesus teaches us that these issues must be part of our story as well. Sin can be the 800-pound boulder pinning us down and causing life to seep away. “Cut off your hand!” Jesus counsels. Just as we do not condemn Aron Ralston for “mutilating” his body, as a matter fact we admire him, so we do not accept the perjorative claim that Jesus is fanatically calling his followers to self-mutilation. Yes, the terms are strong and, yes, Jesus uses hyperbole, but only to emphasize the seriousness of life in the kingdom of God (versus the alternative).
Sin will kill us. And in this part of Mark’s Gospel, the sin Jesus has in mind is that of forsaking him and his gospel way. The sin is obedience to the impulse to lay the cross down and find an easier way to be a Christian. Jesus is strongly warning us to not let anything dilute our loyalty to him and divert us from living the Jesus Way, the way of the cross. It is better to be crippled and be alive than to be whole and be dead. In hell dead.
Radical decision. Painful act. Continuing life. I would want the helicopter pilot, Terry Mercer, to say of my loyalty to Jesus and the gospel of the kingdom, “I’ve never seen anybody that had this much desire and this much tenacity to stay with it and stay alive.” Wouldn’t you want that said of your life of following Jesus?
In the USAmerican church we’ve created powder-puff Christianity and Lazy-Boy discipleship and Sleep-Comfort worship. We’re into Super-size me…Me! The last thing we will ever imagine is taking a pocket knife to our soul and experiencing the pain that leads to life. “Oh no, let’s not get too fanatical about this Jesus stuff. ‘Radical’ is not in my vocabulary.” It’s alright to imagine Jesus bleeding to death on the cross (or to see it portrayed in The Passion of the Christ), but not one drop of our blood, not one bead of our sweat, not one tear from our eyes in the cosmic challenge of following Jesus.
God, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
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