I remember a scene from the first Mad Max movie, after or around the climax, I can’t remember specifically since it’s been a while, and my memory may be failing me. Mel Gibson’s character is basically going on a rampage toward the end and has finally snapped and is killing lots of bad guys, methodically hunting down each member of the gang that murdered his family.
In one scene, Max handcuffs a man’s ankle to a wrecked vehicle whilst the man begs for his life. Max ignores his begging and sets a crude time-delay fuse using a leaking fuel tank and a lighter set close to it. Throwing him a hacksaw, he tells him he may be able to saw through the handcuffs in ten minutes, or through his ankle in five. Max then drives away in his car, and as he does so, the vehicle explodes in the background, presumably killing the man he had left behind handcuffed to the wreckage.
If I disturbed you by sharing that scene and put images in your mind you don’t want, I apologize. It’s been years since I’ve seen that movie but that scene toward the end has always been etched in my mind when I think of the Bible’s clear command about cutting off the offending limb that causes to sin.
But Jesus’ warning for dealing with sin, or offenses in our lives is just as radical, if not more so disturbing and offensive to our “nice” image of a hippy Jesus who just tells everybody to love each other.
For that Mad Max character it would have been much better to escape that wreckage missing a foot, than for him to die in the explosion, which would have been a far smaller fate than eternal hellfire, for sure. But the visual is still very powerful to me.
Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (Matthew 18:7-8, ESV)
You don’t just think of being capable of cutting off your own limb unless you’re in a life or death situation. When death is facing you in the eye, you are capable of making more drastic decisions that you otherwise wouldn’t when there’s no pressure put on you. Survival and desperation change what you find yourself capable of doing.
Every so often I hear in the news of hikers in the Canadian wilderness who fall from a cleft while alone and nobody knows they’re out there, or loggers who get pinned underneath a tree that fell on them. For various reasons they can’t move or get out from under the weight of it unless they remove the limb that’s stuck under a large unmovable weight. There was a movie recently which starred James Franco, telling the true story of a biker of some sort (I’ve not seen the movie, just previews) who realized the only way out of a dire situation of being trapped in some kind of crevice was to cut off his own leg.
Jesus tells us to take sin this seriously.
As if our life depends on it.
Because it does.
We’re also very used to pulling this verse out of context, and applying it only to ourselves. However, if we look at the whole of chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel, we’re shown that Jesus told his listeners this in the midst of his disciples asking him about greatness in the kingdom of God. He then brought a little child in front of them and told them to become like this one, and then in verses 5 and 6 tells them it’d be easier to swim with a millstone necklace than to face the long-term eternal consequences of what would happen if you cause one of them to be offended and stumble. We will get to that in my next post, though.
Jesus said this right before urgently teaching that if your hand causes you to sin, then cut it off. The context was in relationship and community. Have you ever thought about it? This is not talking about priests molesting children, but a horrendous act like that would obviously be included.
It’s not even specifically or outright talking about hypocrisy and causing someone else to backslide or “fall off the bandwagon” because of your bad example of being a Christian, but it can and obviously does include that.
It’s not talking about women wearing inappropriate clothing and causing men to lust or struggle with where their eyes wander, as I so often hear this passage invoked to mean.
However, it does include that also.
Have you ever thought of this in context of the verses following; when Jesus immediately starts speaking of the little ones again, and that if a man has a hundred sheep and one goes astray, the 99 are left while the shepherd goes after the one (v.10-14). Then after that, talks about how to deal with a brother who gets offended (v.15-20), and the chapter ends off with the story of the unforgiving servant (v.21-35). I’m starting to have a sneaking suspicion cutting our hand off that causes us to sin is not just about our own rescue of our life, but helping prevent other sheep from going astray or wandering after our offense — which is usually related to unforgiveness.
I’ll spell that out some more in a post for next week, How Long Can You Hold Your Breath Underwater?
Questions To Ask Yourself:
Is there any area of your life that you need to cut off or it will lead you to death?
What is Jesus speaking to you about that you need to stop doing that’s causing others to be offended unnecessarily and wander away from the faith?
Is there anybody you’re not forgiving, and thus remaining offended?