30 Sep 2018
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” Jesus says. “If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” says Jesus. But he’s not telling us to maim and mutilate our bodies—the bodies he himself made. Instead, he’s telling his followers to get rid of anything that causes them to sin. That’s the message behind those rather shocking words of Jesus: Get rid of anything that causes you to stray from the path of life. And it’s a very relevant passage for today, in many respects.
Our world is broken. Not that it’s ever been perfect, but it seems to be especially broken today. The national political scene is looking like a brawl. The Church is in a questionable state. The practice of the Catholic faith is waning, at least in this part of the world. Youth are lost and in want of meaning, connection. The world, the Church, society has strayed from the path of life and gotten lost.
And we should ask: How did we get here? What caused us to “sin;” what caused us to stray into our present world?...where goodness, truth, and beauty are sometimes hard to see. Well, as we might expect it’s all the usual suspects: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and apathy (sloth). We could add fear to the list, too.
When you watch the national news (or, at least, when I watch it), you can’t help but shake your head. One side tends to be too fearful or slow (or slothful). The other side tends to be too prideful, greedy, and wrathful. And it only seems to get worse, as parts of our national politics sink into near, literal insanity. Politically, these are dangerous times.
Or when you look at the Church amid the continuing revelation of past abuse (or, at least, when I take it in the situation), you can’t help but feel that very Spirit of the Church has been betrayed. Lust, gluttony, fear and anger, greed, pride…they all got the Church to where it is today. As a people of faith these feel like very uncertain times.
Or we look at our youth and so many are doing wonderful things. But so many are also lost, or struggling to be loved, to have real mentors in their lives, to have questions answered they wonder about—all in the midst of going from this practice to that game, from this after-school event to the next, spending the rest of their “free time” doing homework, and not being given the time to know they’re worth something to somebody. Gluttony for activity, envy, pride, competition…what else has gotten them to where they might be today?
Jesus says in so many words, “Get rid of anything that causes you to stray from the right path, from the path of life.” But, you know, doing that means taking some bold steps—not only with other people, but especially with ourselves. Jesus didn’t say, “Cut somebody else’s hand off;” he said, “Cut your (own) hand off”—figuratively speaking. “Before pointing out the splinter in somebody else’s eye, take out the log that’s in your own eye.” In order for us—as a Church, as a society, as individuals—to find our way back to the path of life, we have to be willing to take some bold actions with….ourselves.
You know, maybe you’re addicted to food. Food has become your comfort instead of God or friends. Well, maybe a bold move would be to start writing down everything you eat so you become self-aware. And, you know, practicing honesty with ourselves is really a bold thing. It can be scary. But it’s a tool we can give ourselves in order to “cut off” that tendency toward gluttony.
Or maybe you find yourself so busy with life that just forget to stay connected with friends, with family, with hobbies, with God. Well, maybe a bold move would be to cut out some activities, to slow down. It might hurt, but it’s like rushing to gobble down a plate of food—you can’t really enjoy it. So slow down, and enjoy what’s in front of you. Even it means cutting out some activities.
Now, as you would expect, these would be significant changes to our life. And so, while we’re “cutting things off” in order to get on a better path, we should expect some pain and some discomfort. Again, Jesus is speaking figuratively, but I can’t imagine that cutting your own hand off would be a pleasant experience; that plucking your own eye out would be happy occasion. Again, Jesus is speaking figuratively here, but he’s driving home the point that to make some bold changes in our lives is probably going to hurt.
For example, if anger is something that controls us, it’s hard to just “cut if off.” You can’t just flip a switch and then the anger is gone. Instead, the anger has to be worked through. It’s more like a gradual cutting away. And, you know, that can be painful; like pulling out a splinter really slowly. It hurts. But it’s a good thing to do.
When I look at our national politics, I sometimes wonder if the chaos is because some foundational changes are trying to be made in “the way things have always been done.” We hear that in the Church, too, don’t we: “We can’t change that…we’ve always done it this way!” Whenever we’re trying to rout out: sloth, pride, anger, or whatever it is…whenever we try to “cut them out” of our lives, we better expect a fight. But, as St. Paul says, it’s a “good fight.” So even though politics is kind of a battlefield right now, perhaps it needs to be in order to “cut off” whatever needs to be “cut off.”
And the same goes for the Church. Perhaps this is the time in the Church’s long history that some serious changes need to be made—both in its internal structures, and in the minds and hearts of all those (especially the clergy) who profess to be followers of Christ. When you watch a little chick hatch, the egg itself gets all broken up and messy. But from it comes a new life. Granted, that new baby chick is a little ugly and wet, but in short time it’s a cute little fuzzball.
The Church’s shell has been broken—necessarily so—so that new life can come from it. As a Church, it’s good and necessary to ask what needs to be “cut off” so we can get back on the right path again. Bishops and priests talk about that on the wider Church level, and we can talk about it on the local, parish level.
This past week, we had our Finance Council meeting and it was brought up (again) how our finances are unsustainable—as they are. Either the parish will have to make some significant cuts in spending, or parishioners will have to sacrifice more for the good of the parish. More than likely, both have to happen. No matter what, though, it’s going to hurt.
We need more liturgical ministers. We need more people to volunteer when opportunities come up. We need more people to be mentors and catechists for our young people. We need people to sacrifice their time and efforts in order have a parish picnic next year.
On the parish level, some things need to be “cut off” in order for us to be a vital community of faith. What needs to be cut off? Things like: apathy, anger, pride, and even fear perhaps. It’s so very easy to stray off the path, and it’s so hard to get back on it. But we have to do the difficult thing and get back on that path—the “path” being outstanding Christian living.
When Jesus says to “cut it off”—whatever “it” happens to be, he’s asking us to do something difficult. And he knows it—because he’s asking us to do it to ourselves. But he also knows the good that comes from “cutting off” whatever gets in between us and the path of God. Let’s face it: Sometimes we have to prune ourselves.
We have to prune ourselves, like a growing plant. But, you know, pruning only causes more growth, more good fruit. And so, pruning is a good thing—even if we feel the “pinch” of the snippers. And so, it’s good for us today—as individuals, as a community, as a country—What might God be asking us to prune?...not in somebody else, but in ourselves. Whatever it is, can we—can “I”—take the snippers (figuratively speaking) and do we need to do, to get back on the path of life?