Dear Believers in the Christ,
Mark 9:38-43,47-48, challenges us to follow Jesus with urgency. We live with the expectation from Jesus Christ that our focus is to remain on the Kingdom of God, and we are to help others find that conviction. We seek healing for the sake of the Kingdom. We seek love and justice even if we are to put our humanity aside. There is an exaggeration in this text that is hard to imagine in our own lives. Yet, Jesus desires us to live with the full hope that our hearts and actions are set on the path of justice for people and the richness of eternal life for even the sinner and the outcast.
When I served at Sacred Heart in the mid-1980’s, I proclaimed this text at the Saturday evening Mass. The church was filled with people. In those days, I used various physical props often to support a point of a homily. A psychologist and her daughters were sitting in the front pew that evening. A woman suffering from mental anguish was sitting halfway down the church in the middle of the pew.
So, each time I read a shocking line, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” the woman in anguish yelled at the top of her lungs, “No, Father, don’t do it!” She yelled out every time she felt threatened by the text. No one in the assembly flinched. No one seemed to react to the emotion of the woman who as appalled by the gospel.
After I proclaimed the complete gospel, I walked down to the psychologist and asked her to help the woman who had screamed out. She looked at me puzzled. I asked her what the matter was. She said to me, “Oh, I thought she was one of your props!”
Now, after all these years, I remember that moment every time I read this gospel. I think of the woman in anguish who had a genuine emotional reaction to this story in the gospel. That woman can teach us how to listen to this text and the dramatic stories of Jesus. We need to be appalled at this text. This story should wake us up. We have all grown too familiar with these gospels and have yet to fully understand the ramifications of the story itself. We should all be screaming out in our pews, “No, Father, don’t cut off your hand!”
Jesus rouses fear to get our attention because he desires us to live virtuous lives here on earth. He invites us to help others to do likewise. His commands to us are countercultural. He desires justice in our relationships and in our systems on earth. He commands we act for the good of people and the good of the earth. He wants us to live for the common good and to put his Kingdom first in every action on earth. Jesus demands that we preach with authenticity so to help all people achieve his gift of eternal life.
If our preaching or actions are false, then it would be better if a great millstone were to be put around our necks and cast into the sea. No person could survive the sea with a millstone around the neck. The weight of our wrong intentions against other people bears an enormous weight in our faith. Christ desires us to lift others from sin, division, and injustice.
This gospel story strikes us like a swift sword. It wakes us up to our own actions in Christ. Let us be vigilant in Christ’s desire for every person to be with him in paradise.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
God give you peace,
Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor