aBlog 2-13-2015 bBlog 2-13-2015

In Chapter 9 of Mark there are a couple of statements made by Jesus that have given many of us a little pause. He 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.” (Mark 9:43). Not content with just a maimed hand, Jesus goes on to talk about a severed foot and a plucked out eye. Ouch. This stuff leaves us wondering what exactly Jesus had in mind when He spoke with such force about body parts.

Having just returned from Ireland (both the Republic, as well as Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.), I have grown in my understanding of this difficult saying by Jesus. While in Belfast (Northern Ireland), I took a tour of some of the exclusive all-Catholic and all-Protestant areas of the city. The tour was based on the murals that are found throughout the city and it covered some of the streets where the riots of 1969 happened. I grew up following the news from this part of the world and for me to be there for the first time was like going to a museum that I only knew in my mind.

One of the many murals in a Protestant part of the city depicted the famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the political divide you are on) legend of “Red Hand of Ulster.” There are many versions as to the origin of this symbol but I will go with the one that is perhaps the most popular. According to it, two chieftains were racing to see who would touch the land first with his hand. Whoever did it would rule over Ulster (one of the four provinces of Ireland today). Realizing that he was not going to beat his rival, Heremon O’Neill cut off his hand and hurled it to the shore, thus becoming the first king of Ireland in 1015 B.C.

Both Jesus’ statement and the legend about the red hand contain one grand truth: there are things that are much more valued to us than a member of our body. In O’Neill’s case, it was power and territorial control; in Jesus’ story, it is gaining entrance to heaven. In both cases one was willing to sacrifice in part for something greater than themselves; the part for the whole; a relatively small price for the grandest prize of all.

Though in Ireland this symbolism has caused so many people so much pain, in Jesus’ case it was only that – a symbol, a graphic one, for sure, but still only a symbol. Jesus was not part of a body mutilation cult.

What He is saying here is that heaven is the greatest prize of all and the greatest obstacle to get there is the fact that we have offended a Holy God with our sins. Jesus was not suggesting that we literally cut off our hands; He was saying that sin was huge and if you persist in it, you will end up in a place of torment.

Two things emerge from this teaching; a) Hell is real, it’s not just a figment of our imagination; b) There is a way to escape hell but it may require some radical surgery. The last point could not have been totally understood until after the resurrection. Only then would the people in the Jesus’ circle fully understand that they didn’t need to cut off their hands or feet – Jesus had allowed His whole body to be brutally tortured for them. All they needed to do now was to embrace the resurrected Messiah enter heaven.

But that is where the radical surgery happens, isn’t it? Because we refuse to submit to Him, we insist that there is nothing wrong with us and that we don’t need salvation, thank you very much. We would gladly cut our hand off so long as we can say, like Frank Sinatra, “I did it may way.”

For those who are still trying to do it their way, my only advice is: Cease and desist. Jesus’ way is so much better and you can keep your whole body intact!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA