“Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found…”
from the Collect of the Day
It’s not an easy gospel reading when called to meditate, pray, and reflect on conflict in community, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin…” (9:42 RSV). The Greek word skandalisē (σκανδαλίσῃ) is usually translated as “cause to stumble” or “cause to sin” and is a term that Mark uses here, and three other times in this reading, to indicate a rejection of God’s message.
So, apparently we have a lot of responsibility when we involve ourselves in the lives of others. If we lead others away from God, then what we hear in this reading is the finality of judgment. That millstone used for grinding grain would have been familiar to the hearers of this parable and would have brought a vivid image to mind. Having a millstone tied around your neck before being thrown into the sea would mean that you’d quickly sink to the bottom, into the muck, where you’d be swallowed up. Doesn’t get much more final than that.
As followers of the Way of Jesus Christ we’re being told that there is no room for half-hearted attempts in our words, our actions, our lives. After beginning this gospel reading with a death/life paradox, we are presented with three parallel statements about what it means to save/lose your hand, eye, and foot. The formulation of each of the sayings is the same:
If your (hand/eye/foot) skandalisē you, (remove) it…
… for it is better to enter life (without) it…
… than be thrown (with it) into Gehenna.
Not a lot of room for negotiation! Perhaps the way to put a ‘positive spin’ on this is to say that we are called to sanctity and to lead others to that same holiness.
Thomas Merton said “We are supposed to be the light of the world. We are supposed to be a light to ourselves and to others. That may well be what accounts for the fact that the world is in darkness!” We possess the capacity to decide to choose to work on behalf of good or evil. Both Jesus and Merton invite us to believe that who we are and what we do matter.
Jesus’ words to us today are uncompromising but full of hope. “For every one will be salted with fire” (9:49 RSV). Let us encourage one another to touch that fire and live in peace as we pursue God’s rule on this earth.