Better to Lose One Part of Your Body? – Matthew 5:29-30; 18:8-9

I’m sure Sampson Parker never dreamed that his farming accident on Sept. 11, 2007, might be an illustration of a difficult teaching by Jesus.  He was harvesting corn that day in Kershaw County, South Carolina, when stalks got stuck in a set of rollers in his old corn picker.  He made the mistake of reaching into the still-running machine to pull the stalks out, but the rollers grabbed his glove and then his hand.

No one was near to hear him yell for help, so for more than an hour he tried to pull free, only to have his hand go in farther.  He was able to jam an iron bar into the chain-and-sprocket that drove the rollers.  As his fingers went numb, he began to cut them off with a small pocketknife.  Then sparks from the sprocket grinding the rod set the ground litter on fire.  That’s when Sampson knew he had to cut his arm off or die in the blaze.  His skin began dripping off his arm like melting plastic.  He told himself, “I’m not going to die here.”

He credits the fire with keeping him from passing out as he was amputating his own arm.  When he got to the bone, he dropped to the ground and used his own weight to break the bone.  At that moment, a tire on the corn picker exploded and the force threw him free of the flames.  Somehow he got to his pickup, drove it to the highway and got another driver to stop and help.  A helicopter took him to the hospital where he stayed 3 weeks in a burn center and then recovered at home.  Good neighbors harvested his corn.  80 of them welcomed him home and later he was back on his job, supervising highway construction.

Jesus is quoted twice in Matthew (5:29-30 & 18:8-9) and once in Mark (9:43-47) with words about losing a part of your body.  “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for the whole body to go into hell.”  For emphasis, he said the same about an eye and a foot.  What did he mean?  To put it bluntly, he urges us to jettison whatever it is that causes us to sin, even if it is as near and dear as the hand or eye we use most.  He is definitely not urging literal amputation or eye-gouging.  Instead, he is calling for the most serious kind of repentance and purification.  Notice the context of these verses as Jesus spoke about adultery and lust, about the care and protection of children and “little ones.”

For our sake, Jesus demands the same urgency and dedication as Sampson Parker displayed in cutting off his own arm to save his life.  What is it that needs to be cut from your life?  What is causing you to sin?  I hope it won’t take a fire or an explosion to convince you to break away.  It will take a deep commitment to please Jesus and to be and to do what He knows is best for us, eternally.

Sampson stood by the rusty old corn picker weeks after the accident.  “One Sunday morning, I came out here before going to church, said a little prayer, made everything good with God,” he explained.  “It wasn’t the corn picker’s fault; it was my fault.  It’s just a mistake I made by what I did.  I stuck my hand where I shouldn’t.”

Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey.  All rights reserved.

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