BETTER THE LORD – September 30, 2012 – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
BETTER THE LORD
(Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)
September 30, 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Roadside bombings in Afghanistan receive frequent mention on our television news; United States troops die from such explosions, or they lose an arm or a foot. Today’s gospel reminds us of such grotesqueries. “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” (Mark 9:45). Although we might link such an awful act—graphic and frightening—with the mobsters of the Prohibition Era when they spoke of lead shoes and of sleeping with the fish, nonetheless, our Lord Himself has depicted this millstone about the neck as preferable to leading a child into sin.
“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” In the Greek drama entitled Oedipus the King, the main character blinds himself. Other grim scenes seem better, says Jesus, than failing to enter the kingdom of God.
Christ calls us to sanctification. “Be perfect,” says Jesus, “even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Morally speaking, Jesus calls us to be reconciled with our brother (Mt. 5:24), to foreswear false oaths (Mt. 5:33-37), in refusing retribution to rather turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:38-42) and to love our enemies, even as God loves all people (Mt. 5:43-48). Although none of those acts seems, in Church, to burden us, still, outside, on the instant, the flash of anger draw us to act in an unholy manner.
God calls each of us to grow the kingdom within ourselves. We regularly pray that ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When the apostles ask Jesus to teach them to pray as other religious leaders of that day taught their disciples, our Lord responded.
In praying, says Jesus, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:7-10).
Jesus urges that I frequently pray that the kingdom of God, that divine love may grow within me. This is the Christian way of life, the Christian mode of living that starts as parents trace the cross on the infant’s forehead at baptism. This developing sanctification continues for a life time. Sanctity is not a collection of miraculous phenomena in an odd or unhappy life, but a Christian’s life after the model of Jesus.
In contrast to sanctity is sinfulness. Our Lord employs base language in describing sin. “Everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile, for from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person…” (Matthew 15:17-20).
And Christ likens a sinner to a sheep who has lost itself in the desert. When the shepherd finds this lost sheep,
“he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance”(Luke 15:1-7).
Although the parable of the lost sheep consoles us, the parable hints that the returning sinners are few in number. Sin decays a person. Dante’s fourteenth century Inferno depicts the poet visiting those suffering in hell for their sins on earth. The vestibule of hell arrests attention, for here are the uncommitted, the people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor for evil. These souls, according to Dante, are neither in hell nor out of it, but they reside on the shores of the river Acheron. These people pursue a banner such as self-interest; wasps and hornets pursue such people and continually sting them, while maggots and insects drink their blood and their tears. These pests symbolize either the spiritual stagnation these people live in, or the sting of their conscience and the repugnance of sin.
The Lord’s harsh rhetoric demands that we commit to sanctification. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:47).
Here, of course, Christ employs exaggeration to make His point. Graphic instances arrest our attention. We must choose, in following Jesus, between striving for sanctification and sinning. It is as if we either advance the kingdom of God in ourselves or do some terrible mutilation. Perhaps we have read of such rhetoric becoming physical reality. In the nation of Nigeria, a man was caught stealing three bicycles; for this crime, his right hand was amputated. The year was 2001. How terrible such a sentence!
Our Lord rouses us to heed the call to life in the Spirit. Could we find a few minutes to pray, maybe on the ferry, maybe with a rosary, maybe sitting and praying with coffee, maybe with daily Mass, or perchance Mass on a Wednesday or a Thursday, or for a while by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament? The Lord knows, and you know. Amen.