May 24, 2018
I originally delivered the following homily (based on Mark 9:41-50) at an all-school Mass at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, IN in 2013:
This is some pretty graphic stuff Jesus is talking about: tying stones around our necks and getting thrown in the sea, cutting off hands and feet, plucking out eyeballs, worms and unquenchable fire. It is certainly not the way we normally hear Jesus talk to His disciples. But Jesus was an accomplished teacher, and He knew that sometimes He needed to shake things up a little bit to grab the attention of His audience.
What’s really at the heart of these graphic examples?
Jesus’ point is really pretty simple: He wants us to identify what is it that is causing us to stray from the right path. He already knows what it is, but it is important that we discover it for ourselves. What is keeping you from having the type of relationship with Jesus that both He and you would like to have? What habits have you developed that steal away time you could be spending with Jesus? Time you could be spending on deepening your faith?
According to a 2010 study, Americans spend more than 7 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, playing video games, and using their cell phones to text, take pictures, or make calls. If we take Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel literally, perhaps we need to pluck out our eyeballs or cut off our texting fingers, or smash our computers and cell phones.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying. I think He is simply asking us to remove some of the barriers. Maybe we could take 30 minutes of those 7 hours and give them to Him – to pray, to read Scripture, to sit in silence, or to serve others.
I see so many people – students, staff, and parents alike – entering the school each morning with a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts cup. We plan our entire morning routine around leaving enough time to get our coffee. With morning traffic, waiting in the drive-thru line, ordering the coffee, driving to the first window to pay, picking up our order, and getting back into the morning traffic – on a good day this is at least a 10-12 minute exercise. If we take Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel literally, perhaps we cut off the foot we use to press on the accelerator or slash the tires of our car.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying. I think He is simply asking us to remove some of the barriers. Maybe one day a week we could skip the coffee run. That would give us at least 10-12 minutes once we arrive at school to sit in the chapel and spend time with Jesus.
The world tells us we need things to be somebody. We need the best of this or the newest version of that. This desire to have more and more things takes away from our relationship with God. Material things become idols to us. We are in this world, but we do not need to be of this world. If we take Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel literally, perhaps we throw all of our worldly possessions – our clothes and shoes and iPhones – into the fires of Gehenna.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying. I think He is simply asking us to remove some of the barriers. What are the things we no longer use? Can they be donated? Can the money that I was going to use to buy another outfit be spent on food to donate to the local food pantry? In serving others, we serve God and enhance our relationship with Him.
Archbishop Tobin of Indianapolis, at one time a parish priest in Detroit, tells this story: Mother Teresa was visiting the United States and came to his parish. She needed a specific amount of money for a building project she wanted done. She made her appeal and the parish responded. When the money was counted, she had collected just the amount she needed.
Archbishop Tobin, then Fr. Tobin, was disappointed, hoping that his parish would have been more generous and sent Mother Teresa home with more than she needed. He apologized to her that the parish wasn’t able to do more for her. Mother Teresa told him she was very pleased, and did not want more than what she had asked for. She said, “If I have more than I need, it takes my focus off of God.”
Jesus wants to be more important to us than Facebook, or Starbucks, or a new pair of shoes. He wants to be included in our plans for the day. He does not want to be an afterthought. He does not want to be the first thing cut from our day when our schedule gets too full.
We need to take a look at ourselves in the mirror and reflect on our part in our relationship with Jesus Christ. How one-sided has it become?
Take a first step. Maybe the 30 minutes we take from our 7 hours of media consumption will turn into 40 minutes, then maybe an hour. Maybe the one day we skip our coffee to spend time in the chapel will become 2 or 3 days. Maybe we will learn from Mother Teresa that excess takes our focus off of God.
Jesus does not want us to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands and feet. But he does want a part of us. He wants our time. He wants our attention.
How will we respond to His request?