In today’s gospel Jesus’ follows his dreadful parable about scandal in the Church and millstones around the neck with a thoroughly rational but breathtakingly radical teaching, “Cut it off!”
Too often I see in the hospital men with red, swollen feet, and blackened toes. Obesity, alcohol, diabetes and tobacco, take their toll on the vascular system. I am not a doctor and I make neither prognosis nor diagnosis, but it’s not hard to see what’s coming. They will have to amputate. As terrible as it sounds, the patients are usually relieved by the news; the pain of these dead limbs has become unbearable.
But amputation is not as radical as it sounds. To be healthy, we often have to put certain things out of our life. To save the whole body, we have to get rid of a sick part of it.
Jesus reprimands his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion. They were upset that someone who was not of their company was performing a good work in the name of Jesus. They even “forbade” the man “because he was not following us.” Jesus’ reply is filled with wisdom: “No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.”
In the following of Christ, as we grow and age in grace, we must undergo many amputations. I can’t eat as much as I used to. I can’t work as much as I used to. I can’t party on Sunday till the morning hours and show up at work on Monday. Some habits and attitudes must be left behind. Biases and prejudices about certain types of people must be abandoned.
Envy and jealousy, are sinful because they lead us to sorrow over what should make us rejoice – namely, our neighbor’s good. The reason we may grieve over another’s good is that somehow we see that good as lessening our own value or excellence. Envy forms when we believe that the other person’s advantage or possession diminishes or brings disgrace on us.
Envy is contrary to love. Both the object of love and the object of envy is our neighbor’s good, but by contrary movements, since love rejoices in our neighbor’s good, while envy grieves over it.
When the Lord points to something in me and says, “Forget it,” it’s poison from that day forward. I have no choice but to let it go.
The Church has had to amputate some of its old habits, and it’s not been easy. But not to do so is even worse.
Jesus was not kidding when he spoke of plucking out eyes and amputating hands and feet. If you would be his disciple you better get serious.
It is better…to enter into life crippled, than to…go to hell
It is better…to enter into life lame, than to be thrown into hell
It is better…to enter…the kingdom…with one eye, than to be thrown into hell.
Rather sobering stuff, don’t you think? Especially for our time which so exalts personal freedom – ‘I can be whoever I want!’ – and yet denies the same freedom to God who is not allowed to be whoever he wants. As I said last Sunday during the homily some will say:
‘My God would not send people to hell. I don’t believe in a God who allows people to go to hell! God is all good; he would not allow hell to exist.’
But notice that each mention of hell is preceded by the phrase enter into life. It is better to enter into life crippled … lame … blind – any way at all – rather than go to hell.
Life or hell – these are the radical possibilities of human freedom. Life or hell – and it can begin even in this life.
The Catechism has a very compact definition of both heaven and hell:
Heaven: Eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.
Hell: The state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives.
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That final moment of life in which God, in his freedom, definitively accepts all the choices we have made in our freedom – the truth we have accepted or rejected, the graces we have received or resisted, the love we have shared or withheld.
The Church’s loving hope for each one of us is beautifully expressed in the prayer of commendation at the time of death:
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world …May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with Joseph, and all the angels and saints…May you see your Redeemer face to face.
How happy will that moment be when our soul’s longing is fulfilled and we enter: the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.
Was Jesus’ exaggerating when he urged his followers to use drastic measures to avoid evil and its harmful consequences. Jesus set before his disciples the one supreme goal in life that is worth any sacrifice, and that goal is God himself and his will for our lives, which leads to everlasting peace and happiness. Just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to sin and which leads to spiritual death.
Jesus warns his disciples of the terrible responsibility that they must set no stumbling block in the way of another, that is, not give offense or bad example that might lead another to sin. The Greek word for temptation (scandalon) is exactly the same as the English word scandal. The original meaning of scandal is a trap or a stumbling block, which causes one to trip and fall. The Jews held that it was an unforgivable sin to teach another to sin. If we teach another to sin, he or she in turn may teach still another, until a train of sin is set in motion with no foreseeable end.