“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.”
Today is the day.
It’s been coming on for months.
See that ugly black stuff that looks like excrement on my chokecherry tree? It’s actually the fruiting body of a fungus called Black Knot.
A very kind name for a very evil-looking organism, if you ask me.
Every year at about this time, up I go onto the tallest ladder I can find, armed with my pruning paint and best loppers, muttering about the inconvenience of such manoeuvres on my sore hip.
But I daren’t not perform this garden chore. It’s Poo Pruning Day, after all. If I don’t cut off those unsightly lumps and burn them, the fungus will eventually maim, then kill the entire tree.
And in Saskatchewan, a tree doesn’t grow overnight. It takes decades to produce anything worth looking at in these parts.
So tally ho, and up I go.
Unbeknownst to me, all summer the organism had been spreading inside the affected branches, invading the soft fresh tissues, infecting them with chemicals that prompted the tree to respond by growing abnormal cells. Then a green gall formed, invisible in its camouflaged colouring. Eventually the gall turned black – and as the leaves fell in the autumn, announced its presence.
I had to wait until early spring to cut the blasted things off. There they hung, ugly eyesores proudly displaying their evil handiwork, all winter.
It reminds me a little of our sinful habits.
They invade subtly on a gorgeous summer day, when our attention is elsewhere.
Then they begin to infect our thoughts, create a rationalization campaign that behaves as if it is ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’.
Everyone does it. It’s no big deal. Just one (insert poor habit here), it won’t hurt anybody.
The trouble is, once it causes infection, it becomes something that grows beyond its scope. It morphs into something twisted, dangerous, and ugly.
And it is only after the growth has gone unchecked for a whole season that it shows its true colours.
See, the reason for Jesus’ harsh and startling words here are not that we ought to be performing spontaneous amputations.
The point He undermines so graphically is that no big sin starts big.
No. Capital offenses grow. They start small. Subtle. They are well camouflaged. If we don’t take the time to chop them off while they are little and easily pruned, we are flirting with moral disaster. We are so smug, gazing into penitentiaries from our high horses – while the infection slowly spreads underneath the surfaces of our own lives.
Have you noticed it yet?
That sly, twisted place where you give into gossip, overindulge your senses, add your uninvited comments to a Facebook thread you don’t have all the facts on. That tiny crack in the armour that leads you to covet your neighbour’s house, or spouse, or life – and leads you down a slippery slope to developing attitudes and behaviours that will sabotage the one life you’ve been given.
If you haven’t seen it yet, may I suggest a wee orchard walk? An introspection, a spring cleaning of sorts?
If you have?
Well, friend, it’s Poo Pruning Day.
Take steps to cut out something rotten with me?
Father, we are all infected with sin. Jesus taught it like it is – we need to get serious with our own twisted and damaged patterns before they take so deep a hold that we lose our beauty. Forgive us. Change us. Help us to recognize what needs to be cut away today. Amen.