Better to enter life with one hand
than enter Gehenna with two!
I suppose we all know someone who believes in a literal interpretation of Sacred Scripture. For some, the biblical text is to be read and understood in the same way we read and study a science book or historical narrative. And if the Bible reads that God created the universe in seven days, then so be it. And if Moses split the Red Sea in two, then so be it. One of our Old Testament professors in seminary once said that Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, The Ten Commandments, impeded Scripture studies by fifty years! Even today, I think many people base their understanding of Judeo-Christian mysteries more on Hollywood productions (e.g., the movie, Ghost, and one’s understanding of the mystery of resurrection!) and Renaissance paintings than good theology or factual history!
Today’s Gospel demands a broader knowledge of several disciplines. When Jesus says we are to gouge out our eyes if they cause us to sin, or sever a hand in the face of temptation, his words are not to be taken literally! But for some people, the metaphors of Scripture are a precarious minefield, and we’re frightened because we are not trained to interpret, so we simply ignore God’s Word altogether. In St. James’ letter today, for example, does the author literally mean that the rich are to weep and wail over impending miseries?
No, but from a broader context we realize that the Scripture challenge is to recognize Jesus proclaimed a loving God whose dream envisioned a level playing field. Thus, Jesus raises up the woman bent over (Luke 13:11), and he pulls down the wealthy and powerful tax collector, Zacchaeus. Our Blessed Mother, in her great Magnfiicat prayer, praises a God who tears down the mighty, and lifts up the lowly, a God who feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty-handed.
To benefit from the profundity and richness of Sacred Scripture, we must, like our Blessed Mother, "ponder these things in our hearts," i.e., bask in the grandeur of God’s Word – with all its mystery and ambiguity and paradox – in prayer and solitude.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.