“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9:39-40)
These words of the Gospel, this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, aside from inviting us to reflect in the integrity of life that we are all called to live, also allow us to consider one important characteristic of our decision to respond to the Lord’s call to holiness. The message of the Gospel calls for radicalism: not only does it call for a radical option for that which is good and true, but it also entails renewing that choice for God in every aspect of our life. The Lord wants us to be radical in following Him, and this is shown in our firm decision to turn our back to sin, striving to open ourselves more to the grace of God, and this is nothing else but conversion.
Following Jesus Christ entails a change with respect to everything that does not lead us to him. Once he told his disciples that the acceptance of his message of salvation meant that on needed a renewed heart and spirit, much like new wine that had to be received in new wineskins. This change must also be radical, and to emphasize this he uses an image that may strike us as something extreme: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…” (cfr. Mk 9:43.47).
It is true that the reality of life is such that it could not be considered merely in terms of black and white; however, it is equally true that the more important and weightier things in life do not admit any such middle ground. This is true in relationships that grow in love. Our relationship with God, our acceptance of his invitation of salvation is one of these instances: “He that is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:40). There is no middle ground between good and evil, between salvation and damnation, between God and the mammon. To make use of a popular phrase, one cannot simply light a candle to St. Michael, and then kiss the devil at his feet.
Things are certainly not so simple when it comes to the reality of daily life; but then, if we really wish to be coherent with our lives, and do well our resolution to be Christians, we need to be radical, and much so with regards to certain things and issues. This is easier said that done in a society that tends to be blur every line and break every law, then afterwards qualifying it as normal and permissible. In an increasingly relativistic and secularist society as ours, it takes great courage to say “no” to what is not good, to what is false. It is heroic to live for the eternal values of the Gospel in an environment that seems to place more reasons for not leaving them.
The Gospel also warns us against the evil of scandal. This is also a consequence of conversion. The daily struggle against evil, and the rejection of the devil’s temptations should lead us to be allow the goodness of God to shine through our lives, and not the opposite. It is a fact of history and experience that there are those who bear the name of Christ, but do not show his work in their lives. This is the sin of scandal: instead of bringing people to do what is good and to reject sin, we become occasions for them to stray from God. This trespass is grave. The Lord uttered many words during his earthly ministry, few of them were harsh and even condemnatory. Of these few, some where precisely pertained to scandal: “Whoever cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mk 9:42). Death would be preferable to the one who causes scandal, and a horrible death at that, the Lord points out, underscoring the gravity of this sin.
These words should lead us all the more to beg for God’s mercy, which is limitless and eternal, and the grace to be firm and radical in our daily struggle against sin and evil. It is important to consider that we are all sinners, and every single one of us, without the benefit of God’s grace, is capable of committing the greatest of crimes. Hence our constant need for the divine mercy of God.
May this mercy be our strength as we continue in our Christian vocation, struggling as the saints struggled during their time of trial here on earth, knowing that the process of continued conversion ends only once we see ourselves safe in God’s eternal embrace. AMEN.