This homily was given for the Sunday Readings located here.
Today’s Gospel, the one where Jesus is appears to be telling his followers to cut off indiscriminate body parts, is actually not as bad as it sounds. Jesus often spoke in allegorical terms and there is no reason to think that he is not speaking allegorically here. After all, you would think that if anyone were to follow this teaching after Jesus gave it it would be the disciples. And yet, as archeologists tell us, there is absolutely no record of the disciples having to spend the remainder of their days being forced to limp across the dessert with one foot, unable to “high five” each other because of past sins committed.
On the one hand, we can breathe a sigh of relief that being a follower of Christ will not necessarily entail any scenes from the movie series Saw... that living out our faith in Christ will not necessarily entail a trip to the Home Depot. But if we spend some additional time with the point at which Jesus was actually trying to arrive, it might actually be worse.
Jesus is definitely drawing a line in the sand and he’s asking us to ask ourselves what is distracting us from following his path. With this passage, Jesus joins many other leaders of religious traditions who warn of the danger of attachments in the spiritual journey. Buddha warned his followers of the distractions that possessions can have in one’s life. Muslims and Jews regularly fast in order to remind themselves of the importance of maintaining one’s focus on God instead of maintaining one’s focus on things.
Some of us have big things that we’re attached to. Some of us have smaller things. The question we are being challenged with is whether those things in our lives bring us closer to our spiritual dimension… or whether do do they bring us away. And what those THINGS are can vary. For some, it could be a dependence on alcohol. For others, TV has taken a disproportionate chunk of their lives. In the last number of years, people have been noticing just how much of our lives have been spent digitally as opposed to real life. (As someone who has spent the last few weeks breathlessly waiting for the new iPhone to come out, I know of what I speak.) The list goes on.
One of the reasons many of us give up something for Lent is actually to start conditioning ourselves to let go; it’s an exercise in seeing what’s it’s like to go without certain elements of our lives… to try to avoid clinging onto things and instead of clinging on to God. Sure, many of us use Lent as Catholic “New Year’s Resolution” that can be used as an excuse to lose weight and eat better. Many of us give up some sort of chocolate or snacks. One year I actually gave up coffee… and by the third week of Lent I would have actually given up a hand and a foot for a cup of Starbucks.
But as we all know when we are attached to particular things in our lives, no matter what they are, it can be hard to give them up… even if they are bad for us. The process of letting go of anything in life is not easy. (If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever gone through a 12-Step program.) And because, as human beings, we all have limitations, we need help in not only seeing those things we may need to let go of, but the strength to let them go.
It’s one of the many reasons we become part of a church community, so that we can receive the grace and the strength to let go of those things that take away from the quality of our lives. So we can receive the grace we need to being the process of letting go of those things that harm our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves, and our relationship with God… all of that stuff in our lives that lead us to say “Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy” at the beginning of Mass.
The Good News that we celebrate is that God does indeed give us his mercy. God gives us his forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation when we allow those things we are attached to get in the way of our relationship with others. God gives us guidance to see our lives more clearly when we listen to what Jesus has to say to us in Scripture. The Good News is that God gives us the strength to let go of those things we need to let go of when we approach this altar and receive his Body and Blood.
And the best news of all is that if we’re open to both God’s guidance and God’s help, no power tools will be necessary in the process.