This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications and is included here with their permission.
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life maimed than …. to go to hell.” (Mark 9.43a).
At his father’s funeral, David Gates (song writer and vocalist in the group Bread) was told by a family friend, “Your dad was so proud of what you were doing.” In response David wrote the song “Everything I own” which was recorded by Bread in 1972. The song includes these words:
“I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again.”
Perhaps we’ve lost someone special and have regrets about our relationship with them. We might long for one chance to say “sorry”, “thank you” or a simple “I love you”. Our longing might cause us to say “I would give everything I own just to have you back again”.
By contrast, the Jewish Rabbi and writer, Harold Kushner, once said “No one ever said on their death bed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”
Sometimes there are moments when we need to re-think our priorities, decide what’s really important to us and reflect on how we want to live whatever time we have left to us.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus challenges us to think about how seriously we take his urgent proclamation that “the kingdom of God has come near”. He asks if we would give everything we own, our lives, our hearts, our homes just to be with him in God’s eternal Kingdom of love. He invites us to think about what prevents us from living Kingdom-centred lives and to decide what to do about these obstacles.
Jesus tells his disciples that “whoever is not against us is for us”. He is responding to the disciples who tried to stop someone casting out demons in his name because he wasn’t “one of us”. The Kingdom of God is all-inclusive and we will have to give up any thoughts that we are special and exclusive with a right to make judgements about who belongs in our fellowship and who doesn’t
Jesus takes a common sense approach. If someone is acting effectively in the name of Jesus they’re hardly likely then to oppose or undermine Jesus himself. On the other hand Jesus utters a dire threat against anyone who actively tries to undermine the faith of “one of these little ones”. Jesus may be talking about children but his words could also apply to the way we treat new or vulnerable believers some of whom may be struggling with their faith. We’re not to do anything to make things too difficult or complicated for them so that they give up on the journey altogether.
Jesus then tells us three times that if any part of us prevents us living a Kingdom life we are to sacrifice that part of us. And it will involve sacrifice if the obstacle holding us back is something we value (our hand, our foot, our eye) or cling to (harmful habits, grudges or prejudices).
Jesus says that to live the eternal life of God’s Kingdom we need to be ready to give everything we own, our lives, our hearts or our homes and we need to do get ready now before it’s too late.
So we are faced with some challenging questions.
How do we think about and treat people who are different from us and have different ways of expressing their faith. Do we think we’re right and they’re wrong? If so we need to humble ourselves and become more accepting of those we are tempted to exclude from our fellowship.
Can we identify aspects of our lives that prevent us from following Jesus and loving God with all our hearts, minds and strength? Some of these obstacles may be obvious: words and behaviour that are contrary to God’s ways of truth and love. But there may be other less obvious things that quietly unsettle our faith and eat into our hearts and minds, taking up space in our lives that could be opened up to God.
Our hands might be busy with computer games that are insidiously addictive and brain –numbing.
We may use our eyes to watch or read things that degrade human dignity, glorify corruption or violence or present immorality as somehow an acceptable norm.
Only we can reflect honestly on our lives and see the things we may need to sacrifice in order to live a more Kingdom centred life. But let’s heed Jesus’s call to do that sooner rather than later because the Kingdom of God is near.
- Jesus challenges us to think about our lives and what it means to be wholly focussed on the Kingdom of God.
- We need to be inclusive, accepting all our brothers and sisters in Christ even those whose expressions of faith are different from our own.
- We are not to undermine anyone’s faith by making being a Christian seem too difficult or complicated.
- We are to be prepared to give up anything that distracts us or prevents us from following in Christ’s footsteps.
Let us bring our prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God, asking him for his forgiveness, his healing and his blessing on all those for whom we pray.
We pray for all God’s people giving thanks for our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that differences between us may be reconciled and that we may show welcoming love to everyone who seeks to know God.
We pray for the world giving thanks for the beauty of creation and the diversity of human life. We pray that those carrying the responsibility of leadership may put the needs of the poor and the welfare of the weak and vulnerable before the selfishness of pride and greed.
We pray for the communities in which we live, work and worship giving thanks for the love and support of friends and families. We pray that we may learn to reach out more to those whose lives are blighted by loneliness, poverty, unemployment, violence or addictions.
We pray for those who are ill, in pain, bereaved or anxious giving thanks for all who have responsibility for their professional care and treatment. We pray that God will draw near to them and give them his love and peace.
Almighty God you are our heavenly Father and we thank you for your faithful love and compassion. We offer these prayers and ourselves to you believing that you can transform them and us into powerful and effective channels of your grace. We pray in the name of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
 David Gates ©Sony/ATV Tunes LLC 1972d