26th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B – Between a rock and a holy place
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B
Between a Rock and a Holy Place – “If your hand should cause you to stumble, cut it off”
The dramatic language in this week’s Gospel makes me think of the story of Aron Ralston. He was an outdoors adventurer who loved hiking, climbing and canyoneering. In May 2003 he was rock climbing in the Nevada desert when he fell into a crevasse and a large rock fell on him and trapped his arm. He remained trapped, incapable of moving for an incredible 5 days and 7 hours (127 hours).
Faced with certain death, he took the decision of cutting off his arm with a small penknife in order to escape and live. He then tied a crude tourniquet and walking miles made his way to a road and flagged down a passing car.
A few months later he appeared on the David Letterman show. A spellbound audience heard him describe his incredible ordeal. At the end of the interview a usually sarcastic and witty Letterman was very serious and said “You know something about life that I don’t”.
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks with incredible bluntness about cutting off one’s arm, leg, plucking out one’s eye.
“If your hand should cause you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell” (Mark 9:43)
Strong words indeed. This was obviously a rhetorical exaggeration typical of the Jewish style of writing of the time, not to be taken literally!!! But… there is none the less a very urgent and strong message to be taken from this. Tough decisions and sacrifices are needed in the spiritual battle.
Aaron Ralston found himself in mortal danger. He was so desperate that he judged he would have to sacrifice an essential part of his body. He knew something drastic had to be done. He was willing despite the pain to do it.
Spiritually we often find ourselves in a similar situation. Our spiritual life is put under huge pressure or even mortal danger and we need to make tough decisions, fast. Either we do something or we risk spiritual death.
Jesus speaks of the Hand; the organ with which we grasp things. We reach out and take things. Original Sin is a “grasping”, a grasping at things that attract us but can also destroy us. Be it honour, power, prestige, pleasure… all in themselves good and God given gifts but when they become obsessively central in our lives, they can destroy us. They keep us from grasping at and holding on to God because we are too busy trying to grasp them.
“Cut it off” is a powerful invitation to make drastic decisions to preserve our inner freedom and happiness. Our grasping has, like the rock on Aron Ralston, pinned us down and is keeping us from being fully alive.
Jesus then speaks of cutting of the Foot. The foot is the organ by which we walk, move and journey. Our spiritual walk is towards God, the goal and end of our life. Often we walk down errant paths and away from God. Dante begins his Divine Comedy, which describes the souls walk towards God, by describing how he has “awakened and found that he had wandered from the straight path”. There is a calling in today’s Gospel for a radical change of direction, the profound meaning of the first words Jesus utters in the Gospel of Mark… Convert… Metanoia…
Jesus speaks finally of plucking out the Eye. The eye is the organ of vision. We are destined to see God face to face (1 Cor 13:12). The whole of the spiritual life is to seek and look for and contemplate the things of God. So often though we look in the wrong places.
Spiritual communion with God is the most powerful and beautiful experience on this earth but so easily we can leave ourselves be distracted and lose focus, to grasp at superficial things, lose direction and seek happiness elsewhere. The Gospel today calls us to a radical decision of saying no; “cutting off” anything that separates us from God. Jesus’ command to “cut it off” is not a mutilation but rather an invitation to liberation, to life.
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