A reflection by Fr Joseph Edattu, VC based on Mark 9:41-50
The Bible passage begins with Jesus telling his disciples that “whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward” (Mark 9:41). Therefore, if you welcome someone who is close to God into your home just because you love Jesus, and give them just a cup of water, which is the least thing that you can give, even this minor thing will not go unrewarded. When you help poor people, when you help your neighbours, when you help especially those who belong to Christ, you are helping Christ and your reward is certain.
However, we should be willing to give much more than just a cup of water or tea, for so many people need our help. Churches have many important institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, yet many Christians remain in need of help. Here, the word of God says very clearly that when you help them, you will be exceedingly rewarded.
Keep in mind that when someone comes to you for help because you belong to Christ, you represent Jesus. Fr Joseph recalls the example of a newlywed couple. The bride’s family was very happy as the groom’s family was very prayerful, attended daily mass, and participated in church activities. Hence, they did not check anything else about the groom. After marriage, the groom started showing his true colours and his family tried to cover up his failings. The other family had trusted them to represent Jesus Christ but their spirituality turned out to be a mask.
“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9: 42). If a person trusts you and approaches you for help because you are a Christian, because you believe in Jesus, because you are a priest, because you are a preacher, because you are very active in your parish and if you cheat them, hurt them, abuse them, that is the worst kind of sin – one with terrible consequences. The Lord says it is better that you be thrown into the sea with a big millstone tied around your neck. There were two types of millstones in the olden times. One was an ordinary millstone, and the other was a great millstone. Ordinary millstones were used by women to grind grains such as rice and wheat with a small stone held in their hands. The great millstone was used for grinding large quantities of grain. There was a huge stone in the middle, and a big donkey tied to a rock went round the millstone, thus grinding the grain. Jesus says that it is such a great sin, when one causes another to sin, that the big millstone is most appropriate, not the small one, so there is no possibility of coming up from the water.
Cutting wrong friendships
The Bible passage in which Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell,” Mark 9:43-45 is a controversial one because some people have taken Jesus’s words literally and cut off their hands or feet. However, Jesus didn’t mean for us to take these words literally. If your right hand is causing problems and you cut it off, remember your left hand is ready to do the same, and then you would have to cut it off too. Then your heart will commit sin and you cannot take it out. It is not the body part that commits sin, rather, sin comes from within.
Then, what did Jesus mean by this? He wanted us to understand how gravely important it is to get rid of anything in our lives which we consider essential, that which is causing us to fall into sin. Consider a case where a very good friend, perhaps the only friend you have, causes you to fall into sin often. Even though you don’t want to commit sin, you value this friendship greatly. Through this verse, the Lord is telling us to get rid of such friendships, even though it may be painful – just as it would be very painful to tear out your eye if it is causing you trouble. Sometimes we may have to go through such pain in order to be holy. We need to cut off certain things which seem very dear to us − certain relationships, certain actions, certain connections and certain pleasures.
A man who was struggling with addiction explained that he has a friend who visits from abroad once in a while. This friend always brings a special and rare foreign liquor. Although the man has stopped drinking, on these occasions, since he doesn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings, he enjoys the liquor with his friend. This man is compromising his principles and the decision he has taken in the presence of God, just because he does not want to hurt that person. But at the same time, he is not concerned about hurting God and breaking the promises that he has made in front of God.
The Lord says that even if your hand is so special to you, if it is causing you to stumble, cut it off. Such friendships, that causes temptations or occasion to sin, are not good for us. God will bring the right relationships into our lives. Besides, God himself is our best friend. Therefore, as the Lord says, it is better for you to cut off that friendship, than commit a sin. That is what the Jesus means when he says, “And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:45).
This may seem like a very difficult teaching to follow. We don’t want to cut off many of our dear ones and our special things. Often people feel this is not practical.
The body is weak
Fr Joseph recalls a man who was finding it difficult to forgive others. He said that although he had forgiven various people, he kept a distance from them and did not want to talk to them. He felt he had forgiven them unconditionally and had no problem with them. However, understanding the situation, Fr Joseph advised him that he had not forgiven those people completely from his heart. Then that person said, “It’s true that Jesus said not only to forgive your enemy but love your enemy. I have forgiven, but don’t ask me to love. It is not practical. The way they have hurt me is too much for me to take, so don’t say that I would have to love them.” Fr Joseph responded, “It’s not I who says that, but Jesus. It is not enough that we forgive our enemies. We must love our enemies.”
“I’ve tried,” he insisted. “It’s not practical.” He followed up with a question: “Father, is it practical for you?” Fr Joseph responded, “Truly speaking, for me it is not practical.” He looked shocked for a while and he quickly became happy. He looked at his wife and said, “See, I told you it is not practical, and now Father agrees with me.” Fr. Joseph explained, “My brother, listen to me, my body is weak though my spirit is willing. My spirit says, ‘you have to forgive and you have to love’. My spirit is ready to love my enemy, but my body is weak. My body says, ‘keep this unforgiving attitude’. The moment I think of that person anger comes, my face changes and I tremble. My body is weak, but my spirit is willing. Jesus knows it is impossible for me to forgive my enemy. He knows that my mind and my spirit are ready to forgive and are already praying for my enemy. Only my body is not ready to forgive and to love that person. Therefore, Jesus gave me a solution. Jesus said, I know your emotion is ready to forgive, your spirit is willing to forgive, but your body is not ready to accept it. Your body is still holding you back. Therefore, don’t worry; you change your body. Take my body.”
Becoming Christ’s body
This is what is happening in Christianity. In no other religion does this great miracle happen. In every other religion we struggle with our body and it is impossible for us to achieve forgiveness, but in Christianity, Jesus gives a solution. Jesus knows our body is weak and fragile, therefore He says, “don’t worry my children, your spirit is powerful because it comes from heaven. Your spirit is willing but your body is weak. But my body has conquered the devil, therefore take and put on my body and everything will be possible for you in my body.”
That is why Jesus said “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt.26:26). If you eat and drink the body of Christ, you become his body. Then it is easy to forgive your enemies. It is easy to accept every hurt and every abuse. It is easy to love your enemies. It is easy to embrace those who hurt you because it is not your body that does it; it is the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:24 states that Jesus took a loaf of bread and “when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’” Through this Jesus implies,“This body is ready to accept any insult. This body is ready to take any pain. This body is ready to die for your brother. This body is ready to embrace your enemies. This body is ready to love all those who are hurting you. Therefore, take my body.”
St Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus gave himself up for me. He gave his body and blood to me. Therefore, it is possible for me to love my enemy. For me it is impossible, but Jesus gave me his body and blood. Now his body and blood lives in me, therefore everything is possible for me. So, Fr. Joseph said to that man who was finding it difficult to forgive, “If you receive the Holy Eucharist daily with repentance, with full faith, you too will be able to forgive your enemy. You too will be able to sacrifice your life for Christ and die for him, and also for your brethren. You will be ready to sacrifice all your intentions and desires for the Lord, because it is no more you that live in your body, but Christ lives in you.”
Every Holy Mass we have the opportunity to pray to Christ: Jesus, my body is so weak. I fall into sin frequently. I hate people and get angry, jealous, confused and depressed. I want to change all these things, so I want to change my body. Give me your body during this Holy Mass. I welcome your body and your blood into my body. Amen.