What’s the difference between a haircut and an amputation?
It’s a real question, though not an entirely serious one. Of course amputations cause more trauma, pain, and ongoing life debilitation than your standard perm or frosted tips. But in both cases a part of our body is cut away. When we say “my hair,” we mean it no differently than “my hand” or “my leg.” It may be less “our body” in technical definition, but certainly not in our perception. Which means that a haircut, on the whole, is a bit like a very low-grade amputation. No wonder children cry during their first one.
But a big difference between the two does remain. There’s no phantom pain from a haircut in the same way as with a lost limb. Why? Because our limbs are connected with our brain in a way that our hair isn’t, of course.
Unlike limbs, hair has no pain cells, no nerves, no muscles. It grows back. Despite both being parts of our body, our mind recognizes hair as “inessential”—useful, perhaps, but not of vital importance—and our limbs as “essential.” It understands that hair is an accessory.
Luke 14:25-27 records this exchange between Jesus and a crowd of people trailing behind him:
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”
These are Tough Words: those Bible texts that cause us to instinctively recoil and think to ourselves, I’m a little worried Jesus meant that for real.
To explain the centrality that he claims in the lives of his followers, Jesus says they must “hate” everyone in comparison to him. There’s no loophole in the next verse either. Jesus really means “everyone,” and to show he’s not kidding he goes further, specifying our most intimate, fundamental relationships: parents, spouse, children, siblings. Family. The statement gets even tougher when you understand the first-century context Jesus is speaking in, where family groups were the cornerstones of social ties and personal identity.
These explicit Tough Words from Jesus are a combination of implicit Tough Question and Tough Answer: “Do I sound like I’m going to be an accessory?” Jesus is essentially asking the crowd. “No. I will not be an accessory,” he answers.
But he knows that some of them have made him exactly that. They aren’t following him because they’re hungry for God’s kingdom. They’re following because Jesus says so many interesting things, or they want to be where their friends are, or they just want to see what he will do next. They think Jesus could be an accessory, a side addition to their normal life that might make it full and fulfilling.
It’s so easy to make Jesus an accessory. Accessory Jesus seems to fit perfectly in every place in our life but the very center. We have so much room for him in the not-center spaces.
Jesus, look! Look, you can fit here! It’s pretty close to the center—sort of next to my career ambitions!
What about here, Jesus? You’re still important; can’t you tell? This is near the middle, alongside my search for the perfect spouse or dating relationship!
Look at all these open spots, Jesus! There’s so much room for you out here, away from my money, how I talk, the things I really want the most in life.
You can have Sunday mornings, meal times, even Wednesday nights for Bible study, Jesus. You’re great in all those places! Aren’t you happy with that?
Aren’t you happy with that? That’s the question we pose to Accessory Jesus. And Accessory Jesus is happy to answer “yes.” He’s happy to ride in your back pocket, making occasional appearances at approved times and on approved subjects.
The problem, of course, is that Accessory Jesus isn’t real. Flip through the Bible and you’ll never find him. Not on any page.
But the Lord Jesus is. He wants to be the center of our lives—and nothing less.
Lucky for us, this Lord Jesus is as full of tender words as tough ones, as overflowing with love as he is with lordship. In Luke 15, the chapter after his Tough Words, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son—a parable showing a God who runs to his children with outstretched arms and infinite love. This is the love of the Lord Jesus for you.
This love wrenches idols from our hands and holds us close as we howl for their return. It resurrects parts of our souls that have been dead for so long we can’t even remember them. It envisions for us a life of holiness so original and powerful that the very whisper of it stirs us with its grandeur. It wants our entire lives, even when what that means scares us to death.
Are you getting a sense of this love? Can Accessory Jesus do any of this? Can he give this same love to you from so far out in the shadows of your life, summoned only on occasion like a life coach to “just check in”? Doesn’t Accessory Jesus sound terrible and lame compared to the real Jesus, the Lord who demands the center of your life and promises to love into existence a heart you never dreamed could be, if only you’ll put him there?
Getting a haircut never feels like cutting away something essential. It’s certainly nothing like an amputation. But cutting Jesus out actually is. When you settle for Jesus as an accessory, you amputate yourself from the source of what you actually hunger most for: the sometimes-hard, always-worth-it renovation of your whole self into glittering, radiant new life as God intended it.
Doesn’t that life sound better than Accessory Jesus? You know it does. So throw it away. Meet the Lord Jesus instead, full of tough and tender words, and give him everything.
Images by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.