Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Love God and Neighbour to the Utmost; Take no ‘Deformities’ into Heaven
First Reading (Num (1:25-29): Israelites take a Census
Second Reading (Jas 5: 1-6): Warning to the Rich
Gospel (Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) Avoid evil
-“There are three friendships which are advantageous and three which are injurious. Friendship with the upright; friendship with the sincere; and friendship with the person of much observation; – these three are advantageous. Friendship with the person of specious airs; friendship with the insinuatingly soft; and friendship with the glib-tongued; these are injurious.”(1)
-“The brave warrior cuts his arm.”(2)
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. (Mk 9: 43-48)
A footnote to the above Bible passage says that the original word for ‘hell’ (‘Gehenna’ which has a Greek origin) refers to a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem where people burned children as a sacrifice to idols. After this evil custom was abolished, the area became a large refuse dump for the city of Jerusalem. The residents burned their rubbish there, and the leftover food caused worms to multiply rapidly. As a result, to the Jews the place represented the sufferings of ‘hell’ where “their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched!”
The Bible emphasizes life and a holistic personality. Each person is an organic whole, each one is a full individual entity. When worshipping God, we must do so “with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds, and with all our strength,” ( cf Mk 12:30) and not because it is a rule or a zealous way of performing an external religious rite. We must not spend half our lives serving the Lord God, and the other half serving the enemies of God, for “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Mt 6: 24)
Jesus also tells us that if we are to follow him, we must do so without regret and when doing so, give him our hearts completely. We cannot change our minds constantly, today saying we must bury our father, tomorrow saying we must bid farewell to our family. Jesus thinks that persons ‘as fickle as dripping water’ are not suitable to be his disciples or tread the path to heaven. He says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (cf Lk 9:57 – 62).
To have a life and personality that are complete and a faith that is holistic, we must watch each word and deed, use every opportunity, perform each act as well as possible. We should use our entire life and energy, to enter into our life, trying to do God’s will and remain closely united to God.
Because Jesus detests those who lead others into sin, splitting personalities, tearing lives apart, even leading people to do evil deeds which destroy their souls, he used some of his strongest words to describe them: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” (Mk 9:42)
Sometimes other people are a source of temptation to us, sometimes it is we ourselves. That is why Jesus warns us that if our hand or foot or eyes cause us to sin, it is better to cut the limb off, pluck out the eye, cast the part off. Those who do such things have no reason to come near the all-good and all-beautiful God.
Confucius was a person who loathed friends who were evil and appreciated good friends. He said, “There are three friendships which are advantageous and three which are injurious. Friendship with the upright; friendship with the sincere; and friendship with the person of much observation- these are advantageous. Friendship with the person of specious airs; friendship with the insinuatingly soft; and friendship with the glib-tongued: these are injurious.” (Confucian Analects, Book XVI Ji Shi, Chap 3).
What he meant was that people who are righteous, honest and broad-minded are good friends, those who always try to please, are inconsistent in their speech, boast and flatter (‘speak with a sweet mouth and slippery tongue’), do not make good friends. People who flatter, are ‘two-faced,’ speak ‘honeyed’ words, usually have one aim only, to tempt us to act wickedly and lead us down a devious path, so that we fall into a trap and become their accomplices in evil-doing. Those are the kind of people Jesus rebuked.
This kind of bad example brings disaster to our world. Seeing such bad example opens our eyes to the vast possibility of evil. Because of such bad example the world becomes a big classroom where men and women are taught how to sin!
When confronted with adverse situations like this we must learn to refuse firmly without hesitation; when we become aware of our own weaknesses, we must be ruthless in overcoming temptation. This is what it is meant by “the brave warrior cuts his arm.”
When faced with bad companions, if we do not have sufficient courage to refuse them, we must be strong enough to avoid them. As a popular adage says, ‘It is no use to talk so much.’ Other than this, there is no better way.