Last Sunday we heard Jesus say: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
And Deacon Jim challenged us all to be “little deacons” ready to do the grunt work of being servants to one another.
The Sunday before that, we heard Jesus say: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”
And I challenged us to heed the advice of Jesus to Peter – to get behind him – to follow Jesus closely and learn from him.
And today we hear Jesus say: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna” – that is the abode of the damned in the afterlife --- what we refer to as-- hell.
Before we dismiss this just as an exaggeration of Jesus – or a ridiculous request --- we should first detect the pattern ---
Which is following after Jesus is costly – it’s not just something we can commit to and then go on living life as normal – there is sacrifice involved – so that we can be holy as God us holy --- but there is also greatness – eternal life spent in the presence Christ and all the saints
So yes, in a rather exaggerated way – more to shock us than scare us --- what Jesus is saying to us is if there IS ANYTHING standing in our way in making the sacrifices we all need to make in order to follow after him --- we must cut them out of our lives – rid ourselves of them in order to free us from those burdens we so often want to carry. . . so that we can better:
Think like God thinks – see what God sees, want what God wants--- and love as God loves. . .
Jesus specifically mentions our hands, our feet, and our eyes. And we should reflect on what each of these mean in hindering us in becoming holy, just as God is holy. . .
Sometimes our hands are used to grasp at things our egos want – but which might not be good for us – in-ordinate amounts of money, sex, power, or material possessions.
Stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin was grasping at the forbidden fruit – grasping at a life that God had not intended for them.
So if our hand causes us to sin – cut it off:
We must be willing to sever our grasping at things which are sinful and toxic to us – for they are not the things God wants for us for a good and holy life.
Jesus mentions our feet. Do our feet carry us behind Christ --- so that we can follow after him & learn from him --- instead of thinking that we are the leader?
St. Thomas Aquinas once said that if you want to find JOY – then you have to walk in the path that leads to God alone.
But what do most of us do?? We walk down so many errant paths which instead of bringing us joy – takes it from us. So many of our paths keep us isolated from real life-giving relationships with God and with one another.
So if our foot causes us to sin – cut it off. We have to sever all the ways we can choose that lead us from a joy-filled life --- and choose the narrow path that God wants us on--- which leads to eternal life.
Finally, Jesus mentions the eye – the organ of vision.
Jesus tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel that the eye is the lamp of the body -- that our eyes are the entrance to our hearts and minds – and as such – they provide a doorway to our very soul.
Our entire lives are filled with choices of either turning toward the things of heaven – or of turning away from them --- but as followers of Christ – we are called to see as God sees – not as human beings do.
So if our eyes cause us to sin – pluck them out – we have to be willing to NOT look for joy or fulfillment or meaning or value – in all the wrong places—like the glamour, illusion, sparkly, shiny things of this passing world and set our hearts on the things that are eternal. For where our treasure is – there our hearts will be. . .
If our hand causes us to sin – cut it off. If our foot causes us to sin – cut it off. If our eye causes us to sin – pluck it out.
Jesus is teaching us that we have to approach our life with him seriously – there will be sacrifices to be made – crosses to bear – and humility to be embraced.
So maybe this is not an easy Gospel to listen to – but it’s necessary if we want to experience the fullness of life Jesus wants for us.
So each and every day – if we want to humbly serve our God and others --- we simply need to ask God to send us the gifts of the Holy Spirit –so that we can have the grace we need to identify the tendencies, the habits, the vices that need to be turned over to God – so that God can free us from them – and set us on the way that leads to eternal life.
“You’re just like your father!!” so my mother would say when I was growing up – especially when I showed my stubborn German side. . .
I miss my parents. And one reason is the older I get – the more I realize I AM just like my father. . . as well as my mother.
I have my mother’s love of faith, of family and of growing things . . . And my father’s love of figuring things out – fixing and building things ----and food --- to say nothing about my love of cars with high mileage!
As I said way back at the beginning of the summer – right before Father’s Day: “Perhaps THE strongest example children receive in their lives – is from their parents.”
And Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Oh how Jesus wished Peter were a bit more like their Father. . .
Because that’s what Jesus asks of all his followers: to become (as best we can) HOLY just like God is HOLY– Jesus wants us to think like God does, see what God sees, want what God wants, love as God has – and does – love us.
Just like our earthly parents have shaped us, so should our heavenly one do the same – help mold us into the wonderful person we were created to be.
There is one big difference though --- in many ways our moms and dads shaped us without our full consent – shaped us simply because of the home they created for us and the values they taught us – teaching us mostly by example of what they said to us and how they treated us as we were growing up.
How many of us ever heard our parents say: “as long as you live in my house – this is the way it is!!”
But in a very real sense – God rarely (if ever) works in us WITHOUT our consent . . . And NOT because God can’t. That’s not it at all.
But it is because God chooses to act this way because God completely respects our freedom – respects our ability to choose or NOT to choose being open to God’s grace ----- God respects our ability to choose or NOT to choose to say YES to being a disciple. And that means to a large extent – that WE have the ability---- as well as the responsibility--- to choose the kind of person we become.
“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s true that trying to understand what God might be “thinking”, or trying to figure out how God sees us, or what God wants for us, might seem an impossible task. >>
After all – God is God and we are not!
And so, it takes self-revelation on God’s part, a deep desire on God’s part to be known. In faith, we believe that’s precisely what has happened throughout all of human history – and continues to this day – God wants us to know all we can about God -- so as to freely and fully love God!
And so we have had countless men and women who have pondered the great mysteries of life and who, with God’s help, have helped shed light on who God is.
We have had the prophets, like Isaiah who tell us “the Lord is our help, who will prove us wrong?
And those who knew Jesus like James who tell us “What good is it if someone says they have faith but does not have works?”
Or those like Saint Peter Claver, who feastday we celebrated this past week, who teaches us about the importance of reaching out to the poor and needy – for in them is found the very face of God.
And then we have something in history that was a real game-changer. We have something that makes known the mind of God in ways it was never shown before. Of course, it’s NOT a something – but a someone --- Jesus Christ, who Pope Francis says is the very face of God’s mercy.
So if we want to understand God – we have to understand Jesus – we must get inside the mind and heart of Christ.
If we want to know what God expects of us – we simply need to understand what Jesus asked of his followers.
If we want to see as God sees – we simply need to try to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus.
And if we want to know how God wants us to act, we only need to look to Jesus – to see what he did, and to listen to what he said, observe what was important to him, and even what disappointed him.
All in all, perhaps it was not bad advice Jesus gave to Peter – “get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Get behind me – that is follow me a little longer – and learn from me.
It is only after we commit to following after Jesus – commit to getting behind him --- that we can begin to think as God does – not as human beings do.
And then my mother and your mother – and anyone else who hears our words and sees our actions can say – even with a little pride: you’re just like your Father!
“And people brought to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay hands on him.”
And Jesus showed great compassion to this man. This poor guy who heard no sound, no voice, and probably had little hope. There was always something missing in his life. He could never enter into a conversation.
As a child, other kids probably made fun of him.
As an adult, those who knew him were probably embarrassed for him or because of him.
The man was probably much like a stroke victim today – in his right mind – but unable to express any of his thoughts.
And Jesus showed great compassion to this
man. . .
St. Mark does not record this miracle in his Gospel so that we can marvel at a first century Helen Keller – as wonderful as coming to hear and speak may be.
No, St. Mark records this miracle for a spiritual reason. Remember last Sunday, Jesus confronted the Scribes and Pharisees to go beyond the mere external observances of the law – and challenged them to allow the law to do what it was intended to do --- to lead a person to holiness.
And in reading the rest of St. Mark’s Gospel – we find the Scribes and Pharisees, as well as the Saducees – all the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus day --- had no intention of LISTENING to Jesus. No matter how hard Jesus tried to get through to them, they turned a deaf ear to him.
Today, Jesus goes to the Decapolis – 10 cities in pagan territory. By what he says and does in this place he indicates that the Kingdom of God is meant for everyone who is willing to LISTEN. That is why he heals a man who cannot hear. A pagan man – a non-Jew.
Jesus takes the man off by himself, away from the clamor of the crowd. He becomes very physical with the man – puts his finger in the man’s ear /
spits / touches his tongue / groans / looks up to heaven / and says to the man: be opened.
Then he orders the crowd not to tell anyone – he wants the actions of this miracle to speak louder than any words.
--But the more Jesus ordered them not to – they more they proclaimed it --- because these pagans, unlike the Jewish officials of Jesus day believed what Jesus said, they LISTENED to him – and were astonished by what he did.
What are we to learn from this encounter between Jesus and a deaf, mute man?
That the Word of God has great power. God’s word brought creation into being.
God spoke his word to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to form a chosen people.
God continued to speak through the prophets like Isaiah –who assured those who would listen to him – that God would never abandon them, even when they refused to listen to God.
God speaks – God’s word is powerful – but are we willing to listen?
No doubt we live in a world filled with many competing voices – vying for our attention. The confusing crowd of voices which tell us that we can be happy if we only have certain things --- or if we exclude certain groups of people.
Jesus take us away from the crowd every week when we come to this place – to hear God’s word and to be nourished by his Body.
In this place God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful. But are we willing to listen?
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that always tells us we’re not good enough?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us we belong to God. We are created in the image and likeness of God. And we are precious in God’s sight?
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that constantly reminds us of our failures?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us our present and future need not be determined by our past? That we can be forgiven, and our sins can be forgotten, and God will give us the grace to do better.
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that tries to fill us with fear and anxiety about our present and future circumstances?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us: be strong, fear not! Here is your God who comes to save you!
In this place, God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful. We should LISTEN to God tell us that today is a blessing and our future is full of hope. We should listen with purpose and intention until we can’t hear the other voices any more.
God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful – but will we listen?