Masochist or Messiah?
"And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire."
Let’s take a look at this website called Ranker.com which takes literally any topic of things and ranks them. Mark 9:43 made their list of "Top 20 Bible Passages to Use Against Fundamentalists”. So the Bible, or more specifically Jesus, is requiring that we cut off our hands. “End of story.” That’s relieving because it saves me a lot of time having to explain things. From now on everyone, if you have any questions about the Bible be sure to check out Ranker.com immediately! Their exegetical knowledge of scripture is truly profound.
Okay enough sarcasm ;)
Is everything in the Bible supposed to be read literally?
We don’t read other books this way, and yet there’s this fallacious presumption that the Bible is meant to be read at face value. Yes, if you read this verse at face value, Jesus is saying to cut off your hand if it makes you sin. Do you think he literally wanted people to start chopping their limbs off? This is what happens when you pluck a random verse out of a book that is around 30,000 verses long. The overwhelming chance is that a random verse will sound funny or confusing. We don’t read other books this way, and yet there’s this fallacious practice of pulling random sentences out of the Bible for scrutiny. Don’t make this mistake because it shows a lack of basic reading comprehension. While the writer of this blog probably thinks that they’ve “totally destroyed” Bible-believing Jesus-freaks, all they’ve actually shown is how much they are misunderstanding the meaning of a simple metaphor.
Fun Experiment Time: Let’s take a few sentences out of context from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:
Excerpt from Chapter 4 - Natural Selection
She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. Every selected character is fully exercised by her.
Darwin keeps referring to nature as “she.” It’s pretty obvious to tell here that Darwin believed in a goddess figure. This goddess was the deity responsible for creating all of life as we know it. She even created exercise plans for each of her “selected characters.” How loving. There you have it folks—Charles Darwin, renowned naturalist and evolutionary biologist, clearly shows belief in a goddess of nature. Darwin was a theist. End of Story.
Oh wait, I read that wrong…
How do you know it’s a metaphor?
“You didn’t know Jesus personally, so how do you know he didn’t mean it literally?” I also didn’t know Charles Darwin personally, but I can use context clues to understand his views about the world. Let’s not make the same mistake as this blogger—let’s look at the broader context of who Jesus was. If we look at the accounts of Jesus’s life in the gospels, surely we can observe consistent patterns in his behavior. Maybe the gospels show us that Jesus was actually a masochist. Let’s see.
John 16:25 (NLT)
“I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father.”
-Jesus literally admits that he’s speaking figuratively to his disciples.
Mark 1:15 (NLT)
“The time promised by God has come at last!” [Jesus] announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
-Jesus’s first recorded remarks (from Mark, being the earliest written gospel) were about people’s sin and the coming Kingdom of Heaven.
Luke 5:31-32 (NLT)
Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”
-Again, Jesus’s concern had to do with sinners and calling them to repentance.
John 13:34-35 (NLT)
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
-Jesus taught about love, not body mutilation.
Matthew 7:16-20 (NLT)
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
-Jesus taught that your actions matter. If your actions are producing “bad fruit,” then it’s time to cut off those branches and instead cultivate the branches that are bountiful.
Jesus doesn’t want us living in sin
One of Jesus’s main missions during his life was to usher in the coming Kingdom of Heaven. In doing so, he needed to teach people to repent of their sin. But why? Why is sin such a big deal? Because God, who is perfect and holy, cannot be in the presence of sin. This means that sinners cannot go to heaven, otherwise God’s perfect and holy presence would destroy them. We know this because of the story of the priests, Nadab and Abihu, from Leviticus 10. They came into direct contact with God’s holy presence without going through the proper purification ceremony and were burned alive because of it. We are so broken and full of sin that there’s no way we could make it into heaven ourselves. That’s why we need a fix for our sin-problem: a permanent solution. Jesus was that permanent solution for our sin. His death on the cross was the atonement for our sins. This means that Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we could enter God’s presence in heaven. If you want to learn more about the meaning of atonement, studying the sacrificial system for sin in the Old Testament will help you. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice—the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
So, what did he mean in Mark 9:43?
If Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, then why is he telling us to sacrifice our hands if they’re causing us to sin? Surely that would be considered redundant and unnecessary bloodshed at that point. However, that would be assuming that we can offer ourselves as a sacrifice in order to gain access into heaven. This is not what Jesus meant. Jesus wants us to quit living in sin because it keeps us from fully experiencing God. You can’t live a life near to God if you’re also living in sin. Living in sin produces bad fruit and one tree can only hold so much fruit. This means cutting out certain practices in your life that are causing you to sin. Again, Jesus was speaking metaphorically. He’s telling us to cut off our sinful habits at the source. Jesus wants us to be intentional about quitting our sinful desires. This means taking action to recognize those sinful desires and severing them off for good. It’s going to be painful, but it’s worth it.
You can live a life in communion with God, so what are you waiting for? Don’t let your sinful habits get in the way—cut them off now. Sin is like shackles binding your ankles together while Jesus is standing right in front of you holding the key—and he is eagerly waiting for you to grab that key. Do yourself a favor and don’t ignore him.
Grab that key, Ding on,
that's just a figure of speech. There's no literal key to grab ;)