Year B: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel: Mark 9: 38-43, 47-48
There are two themes in today’s Gospel: who is on the side of God and the importance of avoiding loss of faith. The first is take up by the First Reading, so we will focus on the second here.
There are times when we listen to Jesus’ words and wonder whether he really meant what he said. Does Jesus really mean that we should mutilate ourselves to avoid sin?
There is no evidence that anyone followed the practice advocated here and yet the evangelist knew that it was an important teaching and that it had to be included.
One clue lies in the community for whom Mark was writing. The Church had been under persecution and was to face it again and again over coming years. One thing that caused Christians to stand out was their refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods. The penalty for failing to do so could be to be forced into slavery as a galley slave - or used for sport in the Coliseum - or mutilation to act as a warning to the rest of the community.
One wonders what effect the people who endured such horrors had on the communities from which they came. No doubt, some would have fallen away as a consequence - but others would have found their faith in the face of persecution a cause for some hero-worship. Rather than compromise their faith, they were prepared to be mutilated - their families continued worshipping God even knowing a loved one was as a slave or had been executed. Their witness would have shone like a beacon in their own communities - especially to young people.
There are parts of the world where such acts of heroism are still needed but most of us do not have - nor would we much welcome - the opportunity to be such a witness to our community. However, our faithfulness in the trials of normal life can also be heroic: courage in facing terminal or long-term illness; loss of a cherished relationship because it was at risk of becoming sinful; giving up a job because it conflicts with faith - and so on.
For some, it is like losing a part of themselves - but as Jesus suggests, the path to eternal life can require huge sacrifices. The promise is that we may enter heaven as crippled people but find that in our earthly brokenness, we have, in fact, found eternal wholeness.
© 2006 Wellspring