Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Num 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Using computers seems to come naturally to kids. They even think in computer language. One young girl, learning the Lord’s Prayer, said at the end, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some e-mail.” She heard what she was familiar with: e-mail rather than evil. That can happen to us as well and cause us to miss what Jesus is really saying.
To deliver us from evil Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter into life with one eye, hand, or foot than to be thrown into Gehenna, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” We don’t take these words literally of course, because evil doesn’t come from of our hands, feet, or eyes, but from our hearts. So, for years I took this saying of Jesus as a metaphor to resist the unruly passions of my heart, and to guard my thoughts and to practice mortification.
But I was missing the full gravity of his words. In this gospel Jesus calls us to follow him on the road to Calvary where he experienced the ultimate struggle with evil, where he suffered not just the loss of a hand or a foot or an eye, but his whole body, where he died by crucifixion.
When St. Mark wrote this gospel for the community in Rome it was suffering severe persecution under the emperor Nero. Peter had been crucified, Paul had been beheaded. Some Christians were being burned as lanterns to light the paths through Nero’s gardens at night. For these disciples being willing to cut off a hand, or to pluck out an eye was a metaphor not for lesser sacrifices but for an even greater sacrifice, of life itself. As Christians we might have to die rather than be cut off from Christ. For that we need the grace of a martyr’s love.
Here in the United States martyrdom isn’t very common yet, but we are all called to have the heart of a martyr, to be willing to die for Christ. To receive such a grace Jesus urges us to pray for it every day. In Luke’s gospel Jesus says: “Watch at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk. 21:36). Our final deliverance from evil will not be an escape from dying, but an escape by dying to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps someday the young girl who wanted our heavenly Father to deliver her some e-mail will discover that God has done something far greater, not e-mail or a Facebook account, but his own Words delivered to her not by Twitter but by Scripture, and he has sent his Son to guide her to the High Places and save her from the valley of unending humiliation called Gehenna, and he has sent his Holy Spirit as her password to a heavenly Faithbook account, making her a member of the world wide web of Christians called the Body of Christ, baptized into a divine Harddrive that has infinite gigabytes immune to every virus and worm that evil hackers can devise, so that she can see God not by Skype but face to face in everlasting life.
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
Today Jesus is confronting the Pharisee’s for their pre-occupation with looking good. He recalls Amos’ warning of “woe to the complacent in Zion!” His story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is also a warning about complacency. Complacency is a barrier to knowing Jesus Christ.
The Rich Man is quite comfortable. His earthly needs are consistently met. He is invulnerable. He is complacent because he is confident in his decisions. He does not know that they are leading him astray. He does not notice that he has sinned against someone.
Lazarus is not complacent. He is very vulnerable. He has no earthly comfort. He is sinned against. He needs a savior…and he knows it. (That is about the only successful decision he has ever made.)
Abraham was also comfortable with earthly goods. His decisions were sound. He was not, however, complacent. His heart is set on God and the mission God has given him. He is able to be inconvenienced by Lazarus as he might have been by his three visitors. He is able to be compassionate, to be “FOR” others.
Jesus tells this parable about complacency to religious professionals. They are not paying attention to scripture, so He wants to shake their confidence in their decisions. This should rattle our cages! Are we willing to be inconvenienced for one another? Or are we impressed with the efficacy of our decisions?
The core of Jesus’ message to all of us is first that God, His Father, is unconditional love. Second is that the Father’s and Jesus’ goal is to bring all of us to eternal life in an unconditionally loving community. Sinning against each other is not part of that plan.
In a community, the welfare of the individual is inseparable from that of her community. An animal, cut off from the herd, is vulnerable to predators. So are we.It is only in and through community that one can live out the two great Love commandments. They call us to freedom from self for the unconditional love of the other solely for the good of the other. This call is issued to us who are wounded by self-centeredness. If it is to be heeded, however awkwardly, then it cannot be done with complacency.
Lazarus is a symbol of how complacency leads community members to sin against the most vulnerable members, those who can neither retaliate nor defend themselves.
Lazarus was taken into the bosom of Abraham, into his heart. The heart of Abraham consoled the heart of Lazarus. We, too, must find our hearts because until we do, no prophet, no Rule of life, not even the One who rose from the dead will be able to persuade us to live for the good of the other.
The heart has an evaluative function. It seeks the worth or importance of things. It is formed by life experiences as they are interpreted by the story the community shares. So when God the Father wanted to redeem humanity He began by making the feminine heart: the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Following that model we must find in our hearts our own unique vulnerability.The way to find our heart is to return to our most haunting moments, those times when all the things we have kept hidden from ourselves seem on the verge of breaking through our long, laborious avoidance of them. Sinning against others in community is a way of avoiding awareness of our own vulnerability.
As one bishop wrote, “If we were God, we would have no need of loving anything else for love would find its perfection within itself, as it does in God. We must love others because we are imperfect…”
We can learn something from our deepest wounds if we take time to reflect on them in the light of the story. And that reflection will join us empathetically to others in our community.
Pope Francis has said that the Church is in an age when she no longer needs teachers. She needs witnesses. Witnesses share their experience, strength, and hope. Others identify with them. It is through that identification, that “heart speaking to heart,” that we become brothers and sisters.