Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire." Mark 9: 43-44
This past week, as I mulled over today’s readings, it was the passage from James that had me tossing and turning. There is no subtlety about this message, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you." It’s a fitting time to be considering such a fate, I suppose. It seems as though everywhere you turn there is some new story of the "Wall Street" executives and their deceit and mishandling of other people’s money. You know who I am talking about. These are the people who live in palatial homes and have personal assistants, cooks and drivers. My friends and I have wasted many of our conversations wondering how anyone could be so greedy. They made it pretty easy to throw stones.
And then I started to think on it a bit more. I’m sure that all the other times I have come across this reading, I have easily shrugged it off as not applying to me since I am not "rich." But that’s a relative term isn’t it? Don’t we still live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world? Don’t most of us have shelter, running water, food?
We have become a nation obsessed with scrutinizing the state of the economy. I certainly don’t mean to minimize the real struggles for the unemployed, those without insurance or those who are living in fear of homelessness or poverty. But the truth is, for most of us, we saw our 401k’s dwindle. We saw our house values plummet. We had to pass on this year’s vacation or hold on to that old car for another year–not exactly huge sacrifices. I may not have a cook or a driver, but I often spend $3.00 on a cup of coffee. We are so fearful of not having enough. But I would ask all of you to consider that you probably threw away more food this week than some families had to eat.
But we’ve become so accustomed to planning–for retirement, our kids’ education, or just a rainy day. Much of that planning revolves around financial security. Sure, we go to church, we pray. But, the question is, where are we really putting our trust? We seem now, more than ever, to be looking for some guarantees about the future. But James tells us that even gold and silver will corrode; "Your wealth has rotted away." We have become experts on mortgages and mutual funds. What about our souls? I’ll be honest, I spent far more time this past month thinking about the money in my bank account than the needs of my neighbor. So, how do we begin to change?
I think the answer, in part, comes in Mark. I remember hearing this gospel so may times and thinking how harsh a solution it seemed–if your hand is sinning, cut it off! But we all know that the hand or the foot is not the culprit. I may pay for my Starbucks with the money in my hands, but it’s me–my heart and mind–making the decision. Jesus isn’t really telling us to cut off our hand, then. Rather, we need to cut off that which is causing us to sin–the desire we hold in our hearts. It’s going to be difficult and painful. We may even feel like we have lost something important to us. But indulging ourselves in this life will bring much greater loss in the next.
Let’ s remember that It’s not wealth itself that is sinful. God has created us in his own image. We have talents and gifts beyond measure. For some, this means material gain. But when we elevate our worldly possessions above God, when we put our faith in our checking account over our Lord and Savior, we have gone astray. Think about all that you have. Think about what your real fears are when you think about the need for financial security. Open yourself to the possibility that faith in God is the greatest investment. And you can take that to the bank.
Marlo Serritella ([email protected]) is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.