What did the passage from Mark mean back then, when it fell from the lips of Jesus?
Jesus was not recommending mutilation. Mutilation is always and everywhere immoral. Of course, there are those times when doctors have to remove parts of the body because the health of the whole body demands it. Jesus is speaking in a typically Semitic way: graphic, vivid, and exaggerated. You are not meant to focus on the physical. If you do, you will miss the meaning of the message.
And what is the message? In your journeying to God you have to be ruthless against obstacles that keep you from God. Whatever supplants God in your life, get rid of it, let it go. If you want to be alive with God’s life now and forever, let no love so possess you that God and His Christ take second place in your life. That’s the message.
This is nothing new to us: it echoes the Ten Commandments. You shall have no other god before Me. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. So many thousands of Christians struggle day after day to live Christian lives, to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. But, then again, sadly so many set up false gods. Idols that control their lives. These strange gods force the living and true God into the background, and they can ruin human relationships.
These strange gods are many and seductive: pride or passion; work or play; lust or power; drugs; any person, place or thing. Sociologists tell us that the strangest and strongest god that you set up may be yourself, looking out for number one. Two years ago a survey in “Psychology Today” revealed that from their own responses,
a central passion of men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 is money. The participants were also in worsening health: worried, anxious, and discontented with their jobs, lonely, and at odds with God, who alone can give meaning to their lives. Everything else came before a relationship with their God.
An all-important question for each of us is, what claims top priority with me? What tops my top ten? Who or what rules my life? Who or what commands me: go and I go, move and I move, do this and I do it. If it is not in some way the God who made me, the God for whom I am made, I am in desperate straits and I had better get my Christian act together.
You see, by baptism we were all commissioned by Christ to carry Him wherever we go: to the workplace, the school, wherever it is that I work and play. And you carry Christ not by mounting a soapbox and shouting scripture, but by being Christ-like. By liking who you are, but loving others as much as you love yourself, and being open to all that is alive and life-giving. Absorbed in your work, but even more, preoccupied with people.
Eager to get ahead, but not at the expense of others. Content to live in comfort, but uncomfortable as long as your sister and brother hunger for bread and justice or love. Proud to have made it, but prouder still to help the less fortunate make it. In love with God’s creation – persons, and things.
Many years ago when this Gospel was read on a Sunday I walked into the Chapel at St. Christopher’s Inn, our drug and alcohol rehab. A man sitting with the book of the Gospels on his lap was copying out this Gospel. I asked him why did this Gospel speak to him rather than one about God’s love and compassion. He said, Father, I have to change drastically. I have to cut off, and pluck out. He told me his story which I can’t repeat in public. He completed our three-month program.
Then, three years later, again when this Gospel was read, the man sat in the second row of the chapel, this time with his young son, asleep on his chest. The boy was 4 years old. I was so dynamic that day that the child fell asleep! Every time he moved in his sleep, the father would bend over and kiss him on the head. After mass, I stood by the door and thanked the little child for coming to mass. He looked up at me as only a 4-year-old can and said, “This is where my daddy got well.” This happy man came to realize that cut off and pluck out is not mutilation, but liberation.
We all have things in our lives that we need to look at and get rid of those things that keep us from a closer relationship with Christ. St. Paul tells us, “Let nothing separate you from the love of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus.”