I love stories — to hear them and to tell them. Much of Jesus’ teaching was in story form. Stories invite interpretation. The best stories lure the listeners to find themselves in the story and to discover its personal meaning. Stories leave us with something to ponder long after they are told. Often they are later recalled in a different context, providing fresh insight. Best of all, a good story has just enough ambiguity to arouse our curiosity and to make us think.
A story I’ve never forgotten since I first read it over 50 years ago is related by Robert Raines in his book of daily devotions, “Creative Brooding.” The story, taken from a novel by Petru Dumitriu, is about loggers who had built a long, wooden chute through the forest to slide the cut timber down the steep slope to the valley and into the river. At the end of the day, the foresters would often sit on their axes and go tobogganing down the chute to avoid the difficult walk to their camp below.
One day one of the loggers “caught his foot in a hole in the chute and couldn’t get it free. At that moment he heard a shout of warning, which meant that a log was on its way down. He saw it coming but couldn’t free his foot. So he hacked it off with his axe and jumped free just in time. He was crippled for life, but at least he was alive.”
Although it’s a gruesome story, it reminds us that there are times in life when radical decisions are necessary. Those hard choices are usually not about “pain or no pain,” but rather about “choosing our pain” on the basis of the probable outcome for ourselves and others. Sometimes our options can be pondered for a while, but at other times circumstances force us to make life-changing decisions on a moment’s notice.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel (5:30), Jesus says, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go off to hell (”Gehenna” — Jerusalem’s garbage heap).” Those who first heard these strange, radical words knew that Jesus was not talking about literal self-mutilation. Rather, Jesus was saying that whatever it is that seduces us from following him must be painfully rooted out of our lives - even though we may be crippled in the process.
Lord, give us the courage to cut whatever it is that stands in the way of our having “the mind of Christ.” Amen.
John Paul Carter is a resident of East Parker County and a regular contributor to the Weatherford Democrat.