26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
If you are anything like me, you may have had some small people ask you at Mass today what Jesus meant when He said "if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!" (Mk 9:45).
There are two clear and interwoven messages from the readings today: do not seek self-aggrandisement in discipleship: do not belittle or limit those who seek & preach Christ, and the deadly nature of sin and the seriousness with which God treats it.
In the First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) Joshua was too much concerned for Moses' honour and pre-eminence which he thought, would be seriously jeopardised if similar prophetic outbreaks were allowed outside the control of his leader (sound familiar? It does to me!). Moses, however, was far more concerned for the good of the people than for his own honour. The story illustrates the principle that prophetic gift is not restricted to any class and reveals a fine trait of Moses' character foreshadowing Jesus' reply to the sons of Zebedee in Luke 9: 54—56.
The Psalm [18 (19): 8, 10, 12—14] is a didactic poem describing God's guidance of mankind and the delights of the Law (Torah). The Law is the living out of the Gospel in our lives; our adherence to the Law of God is the means by which others discern our faith. It must affect us radically, giving us the power to see and reject anything harmful or any obstacle in the way of others.
The Second Reading (James 5:1—6) relates this to the way wealth is used in society and throughout the world. Those with wealth and power often consider they are above reproach and therefore above the Law, but their material wealth ultimately means nothing.
The Gospel (Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48) begins with the story of The Strange Exorcist (c.f. Luke 9:49-50) which gives an example of the disciples' failure through arrogance to understand the nature of their mission of service. Jesus' attitude is not in direct opposition to that of the apostles in Acts 8:18—24; 19:13—17). The story then moves on to the Markan parallel of Matthew 5. In Mark's Gospel there is an emphasis on the renunciation of sin.
So why the extreme measures? Well, this is a kind of word picture which uses hyperbole (a typically rabbinic device) to express the need for exceptional sacrifices if we want to follow Him. Jesus uses the kind of hyperbole we use when we say "this bag weighs a ton" or "I've been in this queue for a lifetime" to emphasise the heinous nature of sin to His listeners. The result of sin is death, which is precisely what Jesus came to save us from. In this Gospel, Jesus message is that whatever is causing you to sin, be prepared to take drastic action to get that thing out of your life.
It's so serious that Jesus explains that public sin may cause others to fall into sin and this is even worse. One cannot help but think of the current situation in the USA where the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi lauds her Catholic credentials while supporting and promoting abortion. Her Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone is calling her out about it and she is responding with all kinds of confused reasons see this report for more details.
Public sin is deadly for the mission of the Church which is the salvation of souls. If the Church is seen as optional or hypocritical (i.e. the clergy abuse crisis, the Mgsr Burrill story, etc) it destroys the mission, yet many in important positions in the Church seem completely oblivious to the precariousness of the situation.
Rejecting sin and accepting Jesus, the living Torah, means changing who and what you are and that may well include rejecting some friendships or harmful behaviours that you have habituated. The result will be an extraordinary/ radical change in your life, aligning you with the Torah of love which build civilisation, community and society.
What message did you get from Mass this morning? Was it that division is from the devil or was it that we must repent of our sin and align our lives with the living Torah: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Or a synthesis of both?
For a more detailed study, check out my detailed post on this Sunday's Scripture from 2012.