The devil is a monkey catcher.
They say that in India, monkey catchers use a particular kind of trap to snare their prey. They attach a box or a bottle to the ground, placing inside a banana or a handful of nuts, tempting attractions for their primate quarry. Then they wait.
The ape, oblivious to the devices on his life, unknowing reaches into the trap, and clutches the treasures within. Sliding his slender hand into the small opening, he grabs the prize, closes his fingers around it. However, when he tries to retrieve his hand the reverse way through the opening, he finds that he cannot – with his digits closed into a balled fist around his treasure, he is no longer able to free himself.
The chimp is clever, but stubborn. He values what is now his, that which tempted him and is now in his possession, and he refuses to let go. This is is his undoing. This is his end. In his refusal, in his denial to let go, the catcher seizes him, bags him up, takes him to captivity.
The cruellest irony is this: it was in the ape’s power to escape all along. He was free, right up to the point he was captured, to let go, to escape. His free will held him captive long before the snatcher did.
The devil is a monkey catcher, and I am the buffoon that was wooed by his snares.
The devil is a monkey catcher. We are the monkeys that stumbled into the trap after our desires. The stupendous paradox of it all is this: we know that we cannot ever taste the fruit, incarcerated in the trap, but, fools that we are, stubbornly hold onto it anyway. This, as I understand it, is the Christian doctrine of sin – forever reaching into bottles, wrapping our hands around objects of desire that those desires will never be sated by, trapping ourselves while always unable to truly enjoy the fruit within.
External agency has very little to do with this willing subordination – it is our own rebellious free will that holds us there. There isn’t much more for anyone else to do – the snatcher has an easy job as the bag comes down and the lights go out.
This is the predicament we are stuck in.
When we as Christians speak of the way out, the grace of Christ, it is often with the idea that grace is something safe, something friendly. We make it all sound rather painless. As if we will gain everything from it and yet lose nothing.
As if we’ll be released from the trap and still be able to have the fruit within.
Perhaps when Christ said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off,” he meant this: that he, through grace, is offering a way to get our hand out the bottle, but we’re going to have to lose a hand in the process. In our refusal to let go, grace is a visceral solution, but the only way out. Without power to release our grip, he offers to wield the sword and cut us off from this ensnarement, permanently.
It sounds radical. It sounds extreme. But he knows the fruit we so desperately wanted isn’t going to satisfy us. He knows it is poisoned, poisoned with the slow decay of desires not met, of consumption that does not satisfy. By losing a limb to free us we’ll save the whole body.
Perhaps we’ve got to stop talking about grace as if it is painless. Grace isn’t safe, but it is the only way we’re getting saved from this snare. If we’re going to let Christ’s work change us, we’re going to have to trust him with the sword.