|Icon of Christ – the Divine Physician|
It has been noted that the besetting sin of our day is not that we love too much but rather that we love too little. It is my estimation that although often trumpeted, proclaimed, and sung about in all sectors of society the love that is most often highlighted today is, in fact, impoverished and anemic. When we scratch just under the surface we realize that what often passes for “love” is really, in fact, just safeguarding ones own interest – ones own viewpoint of the way things are, ones own prosperity, ones own desire and need, the success and comfort of ones own group, ones own ideology, ones own honor, family and kin.
The truth is that there is nothing new under the sun; this temptation to safeguard ones own has been around for a very long time. In fact, we find it in today’s gospel passage (Mk. 9:38-43, 44,47-48). John himself is operating under this temptation when he says to Jesus; Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us. On the surface John might have convinced himself that the attempt to prevent this person and his actions was out of love for Jesus but in fact it was more about privilege and our Lord recognized this. Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.
In today’s gospel passage our Lord asks us to do two things. The first is to in humility make what is often called a “fearless moral inventory”. Our Lord asks us to look within and to honestly gauge what motivates us. He does this by highlighting the temporal nature of the physical body. If your hand … If your foot causes you to sin cut it off … If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Any reasonable person is going to realize that its not my hands or my feet or my eyes that cause my sin but rather something much deeper within – my own disordered desires which motivate and impel me.
If, indeed, it is my body parts that should be cut off if it is proven that they are the root of my sin then even more so must my heart and what motivates me from within be laid open before the Divine Physician in order for that which corrupts to be cut out and removed by his grace. Every time we come before the Lord in personal prayer, in sacramental celebration or in service to another we must let go of the subtle temptation to safeguard our own and, in humility, open our hearts to Christ.
This is the first request our Lord makes of us in today’s gospel passage. The second request both flows from and is dependent upon the first. Christ asks us to spend ourselves in love. Elsewhere in scripture, we are told that our love should be sincere. The sincerity of love both for neighbor and God is dependent upon our willingness to look both fearlessly and humbly within and to let go and move beyond anything that inhibits and disorders love. This includes the temptation to safeguard our own.
When we view the lives of the saints one common characteristic we find is that these men and women spent themselves in love. This is said over and over again in regards to the saints. They learned the lesson of today’s gospel passage and each, in his or her own unique way, did not just avoid sin (which certainly is important) but also literally spent themselves in love. They learned and trusted in the expansive love of Christ. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
Christ calls us to spend our lives in love, to an expansiveness of heart, because here (and not in safeguarding our own) is where fulfillment and true joy are to be found.