Sunday, September 30, 2012 by Food for Thought
FirstReading: Nm 11.25-29
Psalm: Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
SecondReading: Jas 5:1-6
Gospel: Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
If you were listening with both ears to the readings today, you might have regretted being a Christian. To be a Christian is no joke. Are you well off financially? Then it seems you better weep and lament for the miseries that are coming upon you. And if you take our Lord literally, following him is total insanity. Pluck your eyes out? Cut off your hand or your foot? Would that not be “mutilation” which Christian ethics condemn as immoral? To have a better appreciation of today’s readings, we must first go back to the context.
What did the passage from Mark mean when Jesus made such statements? One thing we can be sure is that Jesus was not advocating mutilation. The passage from Mark is graphically Semitic. The point is not so much in the particular part of the human body. To focus on the physical is to risk missing the message.
And what is that message? It is a radical way of saying: “In your journeying to God, you have to be uncompromising against obstacles.” So, in today’s reading from Mark, “Whatever causes you to sin,” Jesus told his disciples, “whatever replaces God in your life, get rid of it! Whatever the cost – even life itself … let it go!”
This is the spirit of 120 martyrs of China. Eighty-seven of them are Chinese, while 33 others are foreign missionaries. The persecution lasted for over a period of 250 years, in about 11 provinces of China. Most of them were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion. These martyrs included men, women, priests, and deacons, religious, young and old. The oldest was 79 years old, while the youngest was a boy of 7. These martyrs are examples of Christians who took the message of Jesus to heart. They loved Jesus more than anything else in the world, yes, even more than life itself.
Among these martyrs was a 14-year-old girl by the name of Anna Wong. During the persecution, in the village of Ma-Chuang in Hepei Province, the Christians were herded into one room and given a chance to save their lives by crossing to another room to signify their willingness to renounce their faith. The stepmother brought Anna to the other room to save her. But twice Anna ran back to the room to stand up for her Christian faith, until she was finally beheaded.
After her death, all her relatives were converted to Christianity. Today she is one of the popular martyrs to whom many miracles have been attributed.
So, this is the message of today’s Gospel: “If you want to be alive with God’s life, now and forever, let no love so possess you so that God and his Christ take second place in your life.”
How does this relate to our Christian faith today? Our spirituality must reflect the mind of Jesus, if not his image for it echoes the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.” It also echoes what Jesus called “the great commandment” in the law “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
We must carry Christ to the world around us, to the world of our daily life. And you carry Christ by being Christ. That is to be fully human and, by God’s grace, more than human, therefore a
challenge. Concretely, be a man or woman of flesh and blood, but of spirit and imagination as well. Liking who we are, but loving others as much as you love yourself.
Love God above all else and you won’t have to calculate just how you carry Christ to your corner of the world. It will be second nature, as easy as breathing. All you will need is to be yourself, for that self will be Christ.