26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 27, 2015 – Year B
Readings: Nm 11:25-29 / Psalm 19 / Jas 5:1-6 / Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Once upon a time there was a man. He went into the confessional, sat down and said, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I used some horrible language this past week, and I feel absolutely terrible.” The priest looked at him and said, “Tell me about it, my son.”
“You see, I was playing golf, and I walked up to the tee on the ninth hole and I lined up the shot, and I hit it for all I was worth. And it went sailing, and I swear to you, it was going at least two hundred and fifty yards. But it clipped a power line, and it landed less than halfway to the green.”
“Is that when you sinned, my son?” the priest said.
“No Father, because at that time a squirrel ran out of the bushes, and he picked up the ball in his mouth, and he went running as fast as he could towards the woods.”
“Is that when you sinned, my son?”
“No, because you see, at that very moment an eagle swooped down and he snatched up the squirrel and started carrying him off towards the woods. But suddenly the squirrel dropped the ball. It fell from the sky and it hit a rock and it bounced across the green and stopped six inches from the hole.”
The priest leaned forward, looked the man in the eye, and said, “You missed the putt, didn’t you?”
Sin – it’s a prevalent topic in our readings today, and it’s not something that we like to talk about. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. We all know it’s there, but we choose to ignore it. We all struggle with this at times. All you have to do is do a quick Google search for “self-help advice” and you will discover that you are not alone. Whether you are trying to eliminate a vice from your life, or if you are secretly trying to feed it, you’ll have all the help you need on the Internet. This should not surprise us because our faith teaches us that the devil is constantly at work, seeking the ruin of our souls. Our struggles can be many and varied. Some struggle with addiction, to drugs or alcohol. Some struggle with eating too much, others too little. Some struggle with chastity, or like the guy in the joke, maybe a little anger management at times. Or even gluttony.
If you were to do this search and you looked at the results, you would notice something – that virtually every one of the plans that is out there has as one of its suggestions to remove yourself from what is causing the problem. Remove yourself from the situation. This shouldn’t surprise us either because it is nothing new. Jesus is talking about doing it in the Gospel. He says if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. He’s not talking about literally chopping off a limb to prevent you from sinning. He’s speaking metaphorically. Removing yourself from the temptation is what we call in theological terms, “removing ourselves from the near occasion of sin.” You try to get rid of the situations that cause you to sin. As Jesus said in the Gospel, we’re trying to avoid Gehenna, which we interpret to mean Hell.
Fear of eternal damnation can be a strong motivator to change our lives, but not always. Sometimes we still have trouble. Quite often we know what we should do, we know what we shouldn’t do, and we still struggle with it. We continue to indulge in harmful activity even when we know we shouldn’t, and we know that bad things can eventually come from this. Scientists have explained this. Our brains are wired to favor immediate gratification over the long term goal. But we still need to work on this. We need to try to look past the immediate gratification and look down the road.
Now there are also other techniques that you can employ. And there’s another one that’s really common, and it’s in the Gospel too. If you think back to last week, you’ll remember that last week’s Gospel came also from the ninth Chapter of Mark. Jesus pulled a little child out of the crowd and used him to make a point to the Disciples. This week’s Gospel picks right up where that one left off. That child is still there. Jesus says whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and thrown into the sea. When I read this, I had a sudden flashback to afternoon TV when I was a kid. If you were watching TV at that time after school back in the 80’s, you know that there were frequently public service announcements. And one came to mind. Picture this – there’s a kid and he’s sitting on a bed in his bedroom listening to music and his dad comes in and he’s holding a box of drug paraphernalia. And he confronts the kid, “Is this yours?” And the kid initially denies it. But then the father says, “Well your mother found it in your closet.” And the kid tries to further deny it, but his dad will have none of it, and finally the father looks at him and says, “Where in the world did you learn to do drugs?” The boy looks him in the eye and says, “I learned it from you.”
People are watching us, our children are watching us, and often most times our bad choices will adversely affect others. That’s why in the AA twelve-step process, number eight is to make a list of everyone you have hurt due to your alcohol problem and try to make amends. In Chapter 12 of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that through our baptism, we are joined into the one body of Christ. He uses the metaphor of a body. We know that if one part of our body is ailing, it affects the whole. So it is as a family, as a family unit at home, or as a parish, or as a global Church. Because you see, our children are watching us, and when we do something wrong, they are likely to imitate it. If a scandal erupts in a parish, everyone can suffer from the negative fallout. If war breaks out in one country, suddenly nearby countries are facing a refugee crisis. Developed countries – if they choose to be poor stewards of the gifts that God has given us – then the consequences are most strongly felt in poorer nations.
But if we all fail together, we can take hope in the fact that we can all succeed together. We are not doing this alone. The Church understands this. The Church knows that when we lift each other up, it helps everyone. We have the Sacraments of healing, and we have the love and support that we offer each other. This topic of working together jumped out at me quite prominently as I read all of the Holy Father’s speeches while he was in the United States. One particular line struck me in his address to Congress. He said, “If we want security, let us give security. If we want life, let us give life. If we want opportunities, let us give opportunities.” We can bring that forward. If we want compassion, let us give compassion. If we want forgiveness, let us give forgiveness. St. Paul also tells us, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, and it’s written on the back of our Holy Name of Mary shirts. St. Paul assures us that if we stick together as one body of Christ, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.