My auntie was a double amputee; she lost both her legs to diabetes during my life time. As a child I was grossly fascinated and scared by the fact that someone had cut off her legs. Both legs were amputated below the knee and she used prosthesis on both legs to get around. But when I think about it, it didn’t really stop her much. She was a pretty social lady, she still went out with her friends, played bingo, taught us card games and lived the rest of her life in a two-story home without adaptations for her disability. I’ll probably always remember her doing scissor exercises with her legs on the couch. She wasn’t letting the remaining part of her legs go to waste. Although I’m sure having her legs removed was a huge transition, we all knew that medically it allowed her to live a longer, healthier life, albeit a life without her own legs.
Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel about cutting off body parts is not as sterile. He does not want anything to hold back the Kingdom of God, and He doesn’t want the disciples doing it either. He wants them to cut off whatever would separate them from His Kingdom. But Jesus’ lesson for the disciples doesn’t end there. He isn’t just telling the disciples to “cut it off” in regards to their exclusive behavior or their natural inclination to hold back this other man, He’s inviting them to look into their own hearts, to see what’s holding them back, and telling them to cut it off. Your hand’s holding you back? Cut it off. Your foot’s causing you problems? Cut it off. Can’t seem to keep your eye under control? Cut it off. Easy as that, right? Those are extra body parts anyway, non-essential. No, it actually sounds like a big, bloody, painful mess. I’m not even going to ask you to imagine what that would be like. But each time that He tells us to cut off another body part, Jesus says that it’s better to enter into life without these things than to be thrown into hell.
These are the things that hold us back from the life that God invites us into; a life so good that it’s worth limping into without your foot. This was quite literally my auntie’s situation, not that her legs caused her to sin, but that when she had to make a decision about keeping her legs, she chose life. She chose to watch her grandkids grow up, to spend more time with her friends, to show others how to live fully with a disability. Sometimes it’s hard to trust, but past those things that hold us back there is abundant life. Jesus’ command here might seem a little blunt: “Cut it off,” as if it were easy. I personally would prefer a step-by-step manual with tips on how to reduce the pain and messiness. But that’s not what we get. We get what the disciples got, blunt instructions and Jesus. We’re not left on our own here. Jesus is not going to grab your metaphorical hand and saw it off, but He will be with you. He will show you the way and give you the strength and love that you need to cut it off. God has provided people in your life that will support you, that will walk through it with you, and God will speak through them. Even in those things that hold us back from God, He is there. So what’s holding us back? What is it going to take for us to just cut it off? I pray that it will be on our mind this week and that God will show us the way and provide us the love, strength and peace that we need to move further into abundant life.