Pluck out your eye?

By Greg Masztal

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50 ; Psalm 124

   Whenever I hear today’s Gospel reading I’m reminded of the old adage: “Never trust a Fundamentalist with two hands, two feet, or two eyes.”

   Personally, I’d be fine with tying a great millstone around the neck of any religious leader who harmed a child and casting them into the deep end of San Francisco Bay, but that’s just shadows from my past talking. It’s not what I’m called to think or be as a Deacon, or as a follower of Jesus.

   While Jesus’ words this morning seem shocking, they were meant to be that way! At the beginning of the reading John complained to Jesus that someone from outside their group of disciples were curing people and casting out demons in Jesus’ name, so they tried to stop them. Instead of a pat on the back like they expected, Jesus disabuses them of this exclusionary action.

   If this outside group of Jesus’ followers were disingenuous or fake, would they be able to do anything by just using the name of Jesus? Surely not! If they are curing people in Jesus’ name, then they truly are followers of Jesus the Anointed One.

   So what is Jesus saying here about cutting off limbs, or plucking out eyes? In this interaction with outside followers Jesus sees in his own people the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’.

   Because of the climate they live in, his followers experienced how the Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves the possessors of the knowledge of God, rather than as the participants in God’s Kingdom and servants to God’s people. These religious leaders started examining others to determine who was righteous enough, or not. They drew the lines between who was “in” and who was “out”. Doesn’t this sound like some leaders today?

   In response to this yeast that tries to possess God and leaves no room for the Spirit working in the world, Jesus turns his disciple’s thoughts inwardly, towards themselves. Can’t you see his followers asking themselves, “Oh no! Should I cut off my hand? Pluck out my eye? What have I done with them? Am I doing the work of the Kingdom, or the work of selfishness?”

   Jesus’ shocking declaration to cut off limbs and pluck out eyes is really a call to his followers to stop worrying about what others are doing, and focus on what we ourselves are doing in walking this path of the Kingdom of God.

   Stop and ask yourself right now:

  • “How am I following the Spirit today?
  • How am I being an instrument of the Kingdom today?
  • What am I doing to bring love and charity into the world, and into the hearts of the people around me today?”

   St. Francis put it this way: “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.”

    Our Old Testament reading today is from the Book of Esther. Curiously, the Book of Esther does not mention God at all! While the Book is titled after Queen Esther, it is also the story of Esther’s cousin Mordecai, a man without title living in a society that considers Jews outsiders. In other words, Mordecai is an example of the servant-leader Jesus is asking his followers to be.

   Mordecai adopts Esther as his own daughter after her parents die, and then continues to care about her after she’s rounded up into the King’s harem. He saves the King’s life by relaying crucial information through Esther, and when Esther becomes Queen he continues to give her counsel.

   Mordecai clearly is viewed as a leader in the Jewish community of Susa, but having no title Mordecai leads through his life of “right-ness”:

  • Living as a faithful subject to King Xerxes;
  • Living as a caring parent to Esther;
  • Living as a brother in fellowship to his fellow Jews.

   Even when Queen Esther is unsure of taking action to help her people, Mordecai continues to live in “right-ness” with God, trusting that even if Esther fails to help, God will provide another source to bring salvation to his fellow people.

   By the end of the Book of Esther,

  • the uncaring government bureaucracy is turned to good,
  • the persecutors of God’s people are removed,
  • and the faith community comes together in joyous celebration.

   It is that feeling of joy I want to focus on. Ask yourself this: Can a person be filled with joy if they are by themselves?

  • Think of the parable of the woman with the lost coin: When she sweeps the whole house and finds it, she wants to share her joy of discovery with her neighbors!
  • Think of the parable of the lost sheep: when the sheep is found, it is put on the shepherd’s shoulders and he goes home to share his joy with his friends!
  • Think of the parable of the prodigal son: When the lost son returns the father calls the family together to share in the joy!

   Can you think of a time when you share true joy by yourself? It is only in community that we can truly share joy, a unique emotion that is fostered by the working of the Holy Spirit.

   This is the type of community that Jesus wants his followers to build. Not a community of exclusion, or a community of control, but a community of believers sharing in hardships, sharing in grief, sharing in challenges, but over everything else in our lives, sharing joy.

   We have shared so many losses over these times of Covid, and we will continue to face challenges in the coming months and years. At the heart of our community, however, is the knowledge that we share in the joy of Jesus—the knowledge of God the Father who loves every one of us—the knowledge of the Holy Spirit that guides our community along the way of Jesus.

   In this time of our pledge campaign let us remember the gifts we have, the hardships we’ve endured together, and the hopes for our future as we continue to be that Beacon of Hope in Modesto for those who are outcast and lost along the path to the Kingdom.

Amen.