Mark 9:43-47 is the type of passage that I used to hide from during conversations about my faith. It’s like the time Jesus told listeners to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It’s worth noting that he was using imagery to teach the importance of faith, but nevertheless people responded, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” And the Scriptures tell us that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” That’s why I’ve feared Mark 9:43-47. It’s another one of Jesus’ graphic word pictures that threatens to turn people’s stomachs. Jesus said,
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck 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.
Really Jesus? I wanted to ask. People aren’t going to form a line to join a faith that promotes self-mutilation. But this passage recently revealed itself to me, kind of like the punch line of a joke (which isn’t to say that this passage is a joke). I’ve recently been confronted with some vices in my life that have long been flying below the radar, namely my pride and quick temper and judgmental attitude. A slip up here and there is easy to overlook. For instance, my selfishness or anger may prompt me to say something I shouldn’t, but so long as it doesn’t get me fired or ruin a friendship, I tend to move on pretty quickly. However, I’m in a season of life in which my shortcomings are piling up like months of bills gone unpaid, and I’m finding the whole experience pretty overwhelming.
Now, more than ever, Jesus’ words in Mark 9:34-37 are resonating with me. I’m finding that during this time of guilt and discontentment with my character, I want nothing more than to lop off whatever it is inside of me that causes me to act and think in certain ways. I think everyone has felt this kind of overwhelming remorse at one time or another. Of course, Jesus was using imagery and wasn’t suggesting that we literally cut away our appendages to keep from sinning. If so, we’d all be rolling around like Mr. Potato Head. Instead, I think Jesus was illustrating the weight of sin and the importance of getting out from under it.
I feel sorry for guilt. When compared with cheerful words like “love” or “hope,” it seems very unattractive. But guilt—or at least, the right kind of guilt—is always going to reference cheerful words like love and hope. Our hearts cry out, “Lord, take my hand, take my foot, take my eye, take whatever it is that makes me act this way.” But God points us to Jesus on the cross and repeats, “It is finished.” You see, guilt reminds us of the weight of sin, at which point we’re reminded it’s a weight that Jesus alone can lift. As I poke around in my recent pile of sin I’m directed to the love of God and the hope of the gospel. That’s the gift of guilt.
Sean Bess serves with NavPress in Birmingham, Alabama. He blogs at http://seanbess.tumblr.com/.