If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It would be better for you to enter the life maimed, than to have both your hands and go into Gehenna, into the fire that cannot be put out.
a wobbly hand
pulling back an arrow
letting go before
an intention is clear
fails a test of ultimacy
Rhoads in Anderson175 observes that the Markan Jesus “gives place to moral behavior over against physical wholeness.” He goes on to indicate:
…the purity that comes from physical wholeness is not a criterion for being acceptable to God: rather, what makes one acceptable is the moral behavior that comes out of the heart. This concern for morality over ritual purity and physical wholeness is evident in the “wise” statement of the scribe that loving God and the neighbor with the “whole” heart is more important than all the “whole” burnt offerings and sacrifices.
As such, the only maintenance Jesus recommends for the bodily boundary is for followers to do whatever they must do in order not to let harmful actions come out from their own heart. One guards not the body but the heart so that what comes out of the heart is life-giving for others rather than destructive.
The description of the “wise” scribe is appropriate as this form is similar to much in Wisdom literature. This is proverbial.
It is important to recognize and honor the distance between toleration for those outside a narrow band of acceptability (unauthorized healers and little poor ones) and the zero-tolerance of variation from those within the movement (whole heart means no harm). The surface of these two descriptors is difficult for those who tend toward literalism as the energy levels are quite different. There is danger inherent in graceless mutilation that requires moral purity.
Swanson225 looks for a pattern to these sorts of extreme statements and finds it following the first mention of crucifixion in Mark 8. He goes on to warn:
Watch how Christian groups use the image of the cross. You will see many things, a wide variety. Look especially for instances in which the cross is figured as a weapon. This will be something to worry over, the way a dog worries over a bone. Is there something about the way Christians understand Messiah and crucifixion that leads to violence? Remember the name of the white supremacist group: The Cross, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.