26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Perhaps some of you have watched (on YouTube) or heard the story of Aron Ralston. In 2003, Aron was hiking through Blue John Canyon, in Utah. While he was going down the Canyon, his right arm got trapped under a boulder – estimated to weigh at least eight hundred pounds. He was trapped there, a hundred feet below the ground, for six days. He was alone; he was invisible; there was nobody to help him; his food and water supply was running out.
With death closing in, Ralston made a bold decision: to free himself by cutting off his right arm. He did so, and then performed the amputation. Using only a pocket knife, he did the ‘operation’ which took more than an hour. Despite unspeakable pain, he completed his task: he freed himself by cutting off his own arm.
Why am I telling you this story? Well, because in today’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks with incredible bluntness about cutting off one’s own hand, cutting off one’s own foot, plucking out one’s eye if these things have become an obstacle to one’s salvation. According to Jesus, better for us to enter the kingdom of God maimed, crippled and with one eye than with two hands, two feet and two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.
I want to suggest to read this statement of Jesus from the point of view of Aron Ralston – that is, in the light of his experience and story. Ralston found himself in mortal danger because his arm was trapped under that boulder. So desperate was his situation that he judged, quite rightly, that he had to sacrifice an essential part of his body to free himself and save his life. He knew something drastic had to be done. And he was willing, despite the pain, to do it.
Did it ever occur to you that we too could be in a similar situation where our spiritual life is in a mortal danger? We could be in a spiritual situation where we are trapped – pinned down by a heavy load, stuck in a place of sin, caught up in a dangerous circumstance, and if we are not going to do something drastic we would die.
The great spiritual masters of the Church talk about spiritual danger, spiritual malignancy, spiritual death, and the drastic things we have to do in order to save our spiritual life. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” “If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off…” “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…”
The message is clear and the implications are great. Jesus’ statement can be paraphrased this way: If your relationship with someone is pulling you away from God, displacing God from the center of your life, making him or her your ‘god’ or ‘lord’, cut that relationship off! If your friendship with somebody is making you commit something bad and omit something good, forcing you to ignore or violate your conscience, influencing you to live a life unworthy of a Christian, cut that friendship off! If your job is replacing God in your life, destroying your marriage and family, putting your physical and mental health at risk, sweeping your faith off your feet, cut that job off! If your attachment to material things or possessions is distorting your sense of values and priorities, making you disregard your spiritual wellbeing, starving your soul, cut that attachment off! If your addiction to Netflix, social media, Tik-Tok is taking the time and energy you should devote to God, making you set aside or forget the things of God, preventing from praying, cut that addiction off! If your loyalty to a person is separating you from God, making you deaf to God’s voice, making you blind to his or her evil ways, even condoning them, cut that loyalty off!
Whatever is leading us away from the Lord Jesus, whatever is preventing us from entering the Kingdom, whatever is hindering us from being and becoming the best version of ourselves must be cut off. Only God’s life, only the fullness of life is worth-having. It may be necessary to excise some habit or compulsion, to abandon some pleasure, to give up some friendship, to cut out something which has become very dear to us in order to have that fullness of life – share in the divine life. The “rooting out” or “cutting off” may be painful, but if we are to know real life, real happiness, real peace, that part must go – we have to cut it off!