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Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Ecclus. 5:1-8 & Mk. 9:41-50

There is some very wise advice for us from the author of Ecclesiasticus in the First Reading today. It can be summed up in these few words, “Do not rely on our wealth or upon our strength and when we have sinned we are to be swift in returning to the Lord. We must not take advantage of God’s compassion and mercy.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes three points. Firstly, there is a reward for the person who gives a cup of water to someone who belongs to Christ. Secondly, He condemns those who scandalise little ones. And thirdly, it is better to enter life with only one eye, hand or foot than with both and be thrown into Hell.

Did Jesus mean we should literally cut off a hand or gouge out an eye to avoid sinning? The New Testament records no instances of such mutilations by any of His first followers. Those who heard Jesus’ words apparently understood them as hyperbole, deliberate exaggerations, to convey His point that we should do all in our power to avoid sinning through our senses.

Sin has the power to drag us down - and that is why we should do everything we can to avoid it. Sin dulls us, and dishonours the life of God within us. What's worse, it dilutes our ability to receive the power and fruits of the Holy Spirit in us, causing us to lose our "saltiness" (Mk 9:50).

We know, of course, that if we should sin, we have only to turn, repent, and receive God's forgiveness. Repentance is what we do after we have sinned. But what should we do beforehand so that we don't sin in the first place? That's the issue Jesus raised: necessary and practical efforts on our part to avoid sin. A good place to begin is to know what causes us to fall, which means looking hard at ourselves every day. The better we know ourselves, the clearer will be the steps we need to take.
One example is the Venerable Matt Talbot, an alcoholic who learned how to face his weaknesses in ways very simple, yet pragmatic. One of his strategies was to avoid carrying money in his pocket as he walked to and from work, to disable himself from buying that demon drink.

Each one of us can find such practical ways to combat sin. If a practical strategy isn't apparent, we have only to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. God wants us to be free from slavery to sin. He wants us to retain our salt content, to keep a holy flavour in our life - “you are the salt of the earth”. He is committed to helping us find the right balance between relying solely on our own strength and waiting passively for some miraculous deliverance. He will give us grace as we make a plan and strive to implement it.

Holy Spirit, we want to make a clean break with sin in our lives. Help us to find practical ways to cut off whatever causes us to offend You, so that we might be salt in Your Kingdom today.

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