They say that in the Church of the 1950s nearly everything was a mortal sin and everything else was forbidden! That didn’t leave much room for living. Thankfully we have moved on a lot since then and have a better understanding of human nature and also of human weakness and just how complicated we are as people. So many things influence us and how we think, from the moment we are born.
In the Church we always seem to be talking about sin and what is sinful. Why is that? In the readings today there are some dramatic words spoken about sin and its consequences. I think that the simplest way to explain it is this: We are only going to find happiness in one place, and that is in God. God has created us this way. The problem is that not only are we not convinced of this, but in fact we are often convinced of the complete opposite. I’ll bet that many of us here would probably admit (me included) that if I could really do anything I wanted, have all the wealth I want, the cars, houses, relationships, etc, that I would be truly happy and yet that is the opposite of what Jesus taught. Some of you may be familiar with a program on TV called ‘Cribs’. It is about many of the very wealthy celebrities and what they own. It gives you a tour of their homes, which are pretty amazing to say the least. It is presented in such a way that it gives you the impression that this is what happiness consists of. Yet sadly many of the lives of these same celebrities are often wrecked with addiction and heartache, as you know. Many of them live very tragic lives. Jesus tells us ‘How hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,’ not because there is anything wrong with wealth, but it tends to distract us from what is important.
Sin and what is sinful, is the one thing that can lead us away from God, which is the only place we will find happiness. Much of what we now consider to be a normal part of modern living, is in fact completely sinful according to the teachings of Christ. A lot of what we watch on TV as entertainment is teaching us values that are completely opposed to what God has taught us. Lying, cheating and adultery are portrayed as normal. A young man asked me once if lying was a sin. It is one of the commandments: you shall not bear false witness. Killing is shown as wrong but often necessary. Abortion is portrayed as a difficult choice, but necessary. And yet the Lord tells us that all of these things are wrong and against his commands. ‘You must not kill, you must not bear false witness, you must not commit adultery’, because these things destroy us as human beings. Instead of helping us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be, they degrade us and they lead us away from God. That is why Jesus spoke so strongly about sin.
During the week I read an article about a young man by the name of Alec Smith. He died earlier this year at the age of 26, because he couldn’t afford insulin. He made $35,000 a year as a restaurant manager, but he couldn’t afford $450 a month health insurance, with an out of pocket deductible of $7,600. When he turned 26 he was no longer able to be on his mother’s health insurance. He needed $1300 a month to pay for insulin for his diabetes. So, he began to ration his insulin but he was found dead in his apartment a month later, three days before his pay day. A vial of insulin cost $24.56 in 2011 after insurance and now it has increased up to $80. That is corruption because of greed for money.
Wealth in itself is not wrong, but when it becomes the primary focus, then it is a problem. Our health system is primarily about making money, rather than helping the sick, and that is immoral. That is what the second reading is about. When money is abused at the expense of people, it then becomes destructive. We will take none of it with us when we die and the only thing that will matter then is how we loved and served the people around us.
In the Gospel today Jesus uses a particular way of speaking to make the point of just how serious sin is. We use the same way of speaking when we say something like ‘If you do that again I’ll kill you.’ It’s called hyperbole, an exaggerated way of speaking to make a point. Jesus says, ‘If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off! If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out!’ He is saying that that is how serious sin is, because it is the one thing that can come between us and the happiness that God wants for us. It is possible to lose it. The Lord is constantly warning us to be careful of the things that can destroy us, just as any parent will warn their children. Parents want the best for their children. God wants the best for us, but we must listen to what he tells us. Nothing we can have on earth is worth losing what God has waiting for us in heaven.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.