A Homily on the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Preached by Fr. Stephen at New Melleray Abbey

God’s Email- Using computers seems to come naturally to kids. They even think in computer language. One young boy, learning the Lord’s Prayer, said at the end, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some e-mail.” He heard what he was familiar with: e-mail rather than evil. That can happen to us as well and cause us to miss what Jesus is really saying.

To deliver us from evil Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter into life with one eye, hand, or foot than to be thrown into Gehenna, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” We don’t take these words literally of course, because evil doesn’t come from of our hands, feet, or eyes, but from our hearts. So, for years I took this saying of Jesus as a metaphor to resist the unruly passions of my heart, and to guard my thoughts and to practice mortification.

But I was missing the full gravity of his words. In this gospel Jesus calls us to follow him on the road to Calvary where he experienced the ultimate struggle with evil, where he suffered not just the loss of a hand or a foot or an eye, but his whole body, where he died by crucifixion.
When St. Mark wrote this gospel for the community in Rome it was suffering severe persecution under the emperor Nero. Peter had been crucified, Paul had been beheaded. Some Christians were being burned as lanterns to light the paths through Nero’s gardens at night. For these disciples being willing to cut off a hand, or to pluck out an eye was a metaphor not for lesser sacrifices but for an even greater sacrifice, of life itself. As Christians we might have to die rather than be cut off from Christ. For that we need the grace of a martyr’s love.

Here in the United States martyrdom isn’t very common yet, but we are all called to have the heart of a martyr, to be willing to die for Christ. To receive such a grace Jesus urges us to pray for it every day. In Luke’s gospel Jesus says: “Watch at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk. 21:36). Our final deliverance from evil will not be an escape from dying, but an escape by dying to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps someday the young boy who wanted our heavenly Father to deliver him some e-mail will discover that God has done something far greater, not e-mail or a Facebook account, but his own Words delivered to him not by Twitter but by Scripture, and he has sent his Son to guide him to the High Places and save him from the valley of unending humiliation called Gehenna, and he has sent his Holy Spirit as his password to a heavenly Faithbook account, making him a member of the world wide web of Christians called the Body of Christ, baptized into a divine hard drive that has infinite gigabytes immune to every virus and worm that evil hackers can devise, so that he can see God not by Zoom but face to face in everlasting life.