I’d like us to take a moment think back for a minute to when we were in middle school and high school, for some of us that isn’t too long ago. Think about a time you got in trouble for something and what punishment your parents gave you. Maybe it was a bad grade on a test or a bad report card. Maybe hanging with friends, you got into some risky behavior, and your parents found out and punished you. They may have said,“go to your room and think about what you just did.” Maybe they took things away for a weekend. “No video games, no tv, and no friends all weekend, you will stay at home do chores and homework.” Whatever it was we may have experienced some anger, maybe we thought about ways to get around our parent’s punishment or many other things. I know for me I sometimes would think to myself “Why are you taking this game away from me I didn’t do anything that bad?” I may have said, “MOM, I’m one level away from finishing this game can’t I just have three more hours to play!.” At that age, it was common for us to think our parents are mean are harsh for punishing us in this way.
As I read the Gospel this weekend, I thought to myself. “Wow, Jesus that is some harsh punishment for sin do you have to be that serious?” If you cause a faithful child to sin, it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around our neck? Jesus wants to cut off our hands and feet if they cause us to sin? I didn’t like my parent’s punishment, but this seems to be going too far?
What is the purpose of Jesus using such striking imagine about cutting off hands, feat, and plucking out our eyes? We don’t come to Church, and see people with one eye, missing limbs, or maybe even blind or crippled by their own doing. Jesus doesn’t want us to cut our body parts off, but he is using this striking image to call our attention to the reality of hell or Gehenna. Our Lord doesn’t want us to enter into the pain and suffering of Gehenna; he challenges us to remove these sins from ourselves so we can unite to him in this life.
Jesus often gives us hard teachings throughout the scriptures, not because it is difficult to understand, but it should pierce us to the heart, it should sting our conscience. His words may bring fear into our lives; it may bring anxiety into our lives. However, our Lord calls us to do this out of Love, he wants us to be purified and perfectly united to him.
Our sin hurts Jesus; Our Lord weeps over those in hell; he wants nothing less than for all of us to spend eternity with him in heaven. Out of love for us, Jesus died for us on the cross, and through this, he purified the world, he washed clean our sins and allows us to unite in him. However, too out of love Jesus calls us to follow after him and take up our crosses. This will involve some pain and suffering, this will mean moments of purifications in our lives, but Jesus does it out of love.
These passages too strike me to the heart because of my struggles with sin and attachments. When I read these passages, sometimes I fall back into that thinking from childhood. “God why are you so harsh, why do I have to give this up what I’m doing isn’t that bad.” God wants us to allow his purifying fire to come over us. Coming to Mass is a good starting point, allowing God to transform us through the Eucharist can go a long way.
I think of some of the things in my life I slowly had to become detached. When I was young I was far too connected and invested in technology and video games. They would get in the way of my faith life, the school work I needed to do on the weekends. But as I grew older, I slowly reduced the amount I spend with these things, and slowly reprioritized how I use those gadgets and games. There may be things in our life we need to reprioritize or ask God to purify us from. Some of these things we may require a radical sacrifice, and completely remove it from our lives. However, most of our struggles is a lifelong effort, progressing one step and one day at a time.
What we can do now is continue to come to Mass, continue to frequent the sacraments especially the sacrament of reconciliation. God will never abandon us, and his deepest desire is that we unite with him in heaven. If we trust in his grace, he will bring us to his kingdom.
We will come across other gospel passages that sound to us harsh, and we may see God in a judgmental way, looking down on us and judging what we are doing. However, Jesus shows us who God indeed is. God is of mercy and love, he may test us some, allow us through some suffering but he always looks out for us and is guiding us to his kingdom. We could even think of God as a loving parent or a loving father, sometimes the parents have to punish their children, give them a stern talk, but all of this is out of love, and the parent’s hope is that through their effort they rear a loving, faithful, and good child who does well in the world. God too looks on us in this way. The next time we encounter a passage that strikes us to the heart that may make us feel like God is just so mean and harsh, think of God as our Father. Then say, God I trust in you, I’m sorry for the ways I’ve failed you, help me to become your faithful child and serve you in all things!