Ask Father Paul 100709

Father Paul Massey's picture

Pastors get some of the most interesting questions from people they meet and people in their congregations. Here are some that I’ve gotten over the years and for this column.

Dear Father Paul: Can you please explain the meaning of Jesus’ words in Mark 9 where he tells his disciples that it’d be better for them to cut off a hand or foot “that offends” them and live life with only one hand or foot than to go to hell with two good hands and feet. He also talks about gouging out one of your eyes for the same reason. Sounds more like a 2009 scary movie than scripture. — No Name.

Dear No Name: I can see where a person might be turned off by this passage. Cutting off hands and feet and gouging out eyes does indeed sound pretty scary doesn’t it? But like many of Jesus’ teachings, his words in Mark 9 have a deep and profound meaning for us here, now, today in 2009.

First of all, as in understanding many scripture passages, we must look at the context of the passage ... or, put another way, what is happening at the time and the relative circumstances surrounding the passage. More on that in just a minute.

Jesus is not telling us, “Your hands, feet and eyes are your problem. Go cut them off.” What he is doing is making a comparison between two very bad things ... two horrible things ... either losing a hand, foot or eye ... or missing God’s plan and maybe going to hell. And, he’s saying, bad as it might be to loose a hand, foot or eye, it’s much, much worse to miss God and wind up in hell for eternity.

The King James version you quote translates it thusly: If your hand or foot “offends” you, cut it off, etc. Again, that can make us think, “My problem is my hand, foot or eye.” But some of the newer translations say “causes you to sin” or “causes you to stumble.”

The newer translations I like a lot say, if your hand, foot or eye, “trip you up,” cut them off. The very best (and closer translation of what Jesus was really saying) is this, “if your hand, foot or eye distracts you,” etc. To me that nails it.

Now back to the context of the passage. Just a few verses earlier, in Mark 9: 38, Jesus’ disciple John had come to him with a complaint. Keep in mind that Jesus was on a mission and time was short for him to accomplish his mission.

John says (NRSV) in verse 38, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”

Basically, John was (unknowingly) trying to distract Jesus from his mission. He was trying to get Jesus to stop going in the direction God had told him to go ... and instead turn aside and do something else ... deal with a side issue. John was saying, “this guy is doing works in your name Jesus, and he isn’t even part of our denomination. We need to stop where we are going and deal with this issue right now.”

Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Distractions frequently do sound good. We can all be distracted in so many “good” ways.

But what Jesus is really telling us in this important passage is this: “Don’t get distracted from what I’ve told you to do.”

We all need to ask ourselves, how much of what goes on in our churches today is really a distraction? Are all of us, including me, moving forward with resolute eyes fixed only on the mission Jesus has given his church, or are we, am I, being distracted? Is my church distracted? Are we doing “important” things at the expense of the mission? Jesus is telling us we’d be better off losing a hand, foot or eye than missing God’s true plan for us.

Staying on our mission is a big deal to God.

Do you have a question? I will try to answer your question in the paper. Email it to me at

Father Paul Massey is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. Church of the Holy Cross is Evangelical, Sacramental and Charismatic ... all three streams of the ancient, historic church ... together ... in one church. Visitors are most welcome. More info. service times and directions are on our web site.

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Submitted by abbyzon on Tue, 10/13/2009 - 11:11pm.

Let's put a stop to gangstalking. What is the meaning of the dream of the statue made of various materials, bronze, clay, etc. And what was the meaning of the beast with all the heads and horns.

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