แผนกคริสตศาสนธรรม  อัครสังฆมณฑลกรุงเทพฯ



26th Sunday of the Year
Numbers 11:25–29; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 47–48

Cost of Discipleship
A disciple should be willing to undergo any sacrifice for the kingdom of God.

The movie A Man for All Seasons is based on the life of Saint Thomas More.

Thomas More was a teenager in England when Columbus discovered America. Thomas attended Oxford University and,
after graduation, entered public life. He rose rapidly as a government official. In 1529, King Henry VIII honored him
by appointing him Chancellor of England.

Then tragedy struck Thomas More’s life. Here’s how it happened.

Henry VIII divorced his queen and remarried unlawfully.
To combat opposition to his marriage, Henry ordered certain dignitaries of the state to sign a document, swearing under oath that his remarriage was lawful. Henry passed word along to the dignitaries that if they refuse to sign the document,
they would be arrested for treason.

A dramatic scene occurred when Lord Norfolk brought the document to Thomas More. Thomas refused to sign it;
no amount of persuasion would change his mind. Finally Lord Norfolk lost his patience. he said to his friend:

“Oh confound all this . . .
I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not.
but, damn it, Thomas, look at these names. . . .
You know these men! Can’t you do what I did and come along with us, for fellowship?”

Thomas More still refused. He wouldn’t swear to something that he knew in his heart was wrong. Thomas More was eventually arrested. On July 6, 1635, he was executed for treason.

The story of Thomas More illustrates what Jesus means when he says in today’s gospel:

“If your hand makes you lose your faith, cut it off! . . .
If your foot makes you lose your faith, cut it off! . . .
If your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out!
It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of god with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell.” Mark 9:43–47

Jesus isn’t telling us to cut off a leg or pluck out an eye in the literal sense. He’s simply using familiar expressions of his time to make an important point. The point is this:

His followers should be willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to keep from sinning. They should be willing to sacrifice even what is most precious to them to enter the kingdom of God.

In the case of Thomas More, this meant sacrificing his own life.

And lest we think that because Thomas More was a saint
he therefore found it easy to give up his life, listen to these words. They appear in a letter he wrote to his daughter
shortly after his arrest. They reflect the terrible struggle that was going on inside his soul.

“Dear Meg,

“I will not mistrust God, though I shall feel myself weakening
and on the verge of being overcome with fear.

“I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind
began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help.

“And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me
and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. . . .

“And therefore my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world.

“Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure
that whatever that be, however bad it may seem it shall indeed be best.”

Today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves this question:
How vigilant are we in avoiding sin for the kingdom of God?
How vigilant are we in guarding against anything that may cause us to lose the kingdom of God?

In one of his letters, the famous 17th-century French saint
Saint Francis de Sales has this to say about temptation and guarding against sin:

“Let the enemy rage at the gate,
let him knock,
let him push,
let him cry,
let him howl,
let him do worse;
we know for certain that he cannot enter save by the door of our consent.”

And so we should be vigilant in guarding against sin.
When temptation to sin does come—and it will—let us recall the words of Saint Thomas More to his daughter Meg:

“I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith,
and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ
and pray to him for help.

“And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me
and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. . . .

In brief, then the message of Jesus in today’s gospel comes down to this:

We should be willing to undergo any sacrifice to avoid sin
and losing the kingdom of God.

We should even be ready to imitate Sir Thomas More,
who sacrificed his own life for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Let’s close with these words from an old hymn.
The Church prays them in The Liturgy of the Hours at evening prayer on certain Sundays of the liturgical year:

“At the name of Jesus
Ev’ry knee shall bow,
Ev’ry tongue confess him
King of glory now. . . .

“In your hearts enthrone him; There, let him subdue
All that is not holy, All that is not true;
May your voice entreat him In temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you In its light and power

“Brothers [and sisters], this Lord Jesus Shall return again, With his Father’s glory, O’er the earth to reign;
He is God the Savior;
He is Christ the Lord.”

Series II
26th Sunday of the Year
Numbers 11:25–29; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48

The Girl and the Gull
Whoever leads another astray will be punished; whoever helps another find the way will be rewarded.

William Sydney Porter was a popular American author
in the early 1900s. Writing under the pen name O. Henry,
he was famous for his short stories.

The thing that made him famous was the way he ended his stories. He never ended them in a conventional way.
He always ended them with a surprise.

For example,
one story tells of a little girl whose mother was dead.
The little girl would wait all day for her father to return from work. She wanted to sit on his lap, for she was emotionally starved for signs of affection.

But every night her father followed the same routine.
He’d eat. Then he’d flop in his favorite chair, light up his pipe, and read until bedtime.

When the little girl came to sit on his lap, he’d always reply the same way. “Honey, can’t you see your daddy’s tired?
He worked all day. Go outside and play.’’

The little girl would go outside and play in the street,
amusing herself as best she could.

The inevitable happened.

As the girl grew older she began to accept expressions of affection from anyone who offered them. And instead of playing in the street, she took to the street and became a prostitute.

One day the girl died. As she approached the gates of heaven,
Peter saw her coming and said to Jesus, “She’s a bad one, Lord. She’s a prostitute. There’s only one place for her.’’

Then comes the surprise ending to the story. Jesus says to Peter, “Let her come into heaven. But when her father comes,
hold him responsible for her life.’’

O. Henry’s point is clear. God will be merciful to those who, through minimal fault of their own, were led astray.
But God will be demanding toward those who are responsible for leading them astray.

And we might add that the way we lead another astray is usually not by doing something to them. More often it is by failing to do something for them.

For example,
we fail to show them love or affection, as the father failed to do in O. Henry’s story. This is especially true when it comes to children.

Some years ago the Reader’s Digest carried an article by Jane Lindstrom. It was entitled
“How Will You Know Unless I Tell You?’’

In that article Lindstrom reminds us of something
that is tremendously important. She says, and I quote:

“Children crave spoken assurances of love and approval.
Love locked in our hearts doesn’t reach them. It is like a letter
written and not sent. If they are to become emotionally secure, they must hear us say to them:

“ ‘I love you, sweetheart.
I’m proud of you.
I’m awfully glad that you’re my little girl.’

“A soft voice, friendly eyes, and gentle words will convey the message even to a baby.’’ (slightly adapted)

And what is true of children is true also of husbands and wives. They crave concrete expressions of love. When we withhold these expressions, we can tempt them to go astray.
And God will hold us accountable for this, just as Jesus did the father in O. Henry’s story.

But Jesus taught us something else. He taught us that the reverse is also true. He taught us that anyone who brings someone back to the right path after that person has gone astray will be greatly blessed. (James 5:20)

In her book The One and Only Me, Irene Champernowne recalls a moving story.

One day she was walking along a beach. She came upon a group of small children who were throwing stones at a sea gull.
One of the gull’s wings was broken, and it couldn’t fly.

Irene was shocked by what she saw. She stopped and told the children that instead of hurting the gull even more,
they should be helping it. The children seemed to understand
and stopped throwing stones.
Later, when Irene returned from her walk down the beach,
she saw the same group of children. They were gathered around the same sea gull. Only this time, instead of throwing stones at it, they were feeding it and building a shelter for it.

Irene was amazed how her words of guidance had transformed the behavior of the children. What a tragedy it would have been, she thought, had she not taken the time to redirect their energies.

That story illustrates what one person was able to do.
Irene refused to join the long line of people who see evil, complain about it, but don’t do a single thing to change it.

Today’s gospel is an invitation from Jesus to ask ourselves two important questions.

First, what are we doing—or, perhaps, not doing—that may be causing another to go astray?
For example,
if we are parents or spouses, are we placing ourselves at the service of our loved ones?

Or are we so caught up with our own hurts and concerns
that we omit even the basic expressions of love
that every parent or spouse should show?

Second, to what extent do we make an effort to help others who are going astray, like the children in Irene’s story?

For example,
do we ever give our time, our creativity, or our money
to the unfortunate? Or are we merely critical of their lot and do nothing to improve it?

These are two questions that today’s readings invite us to ask ourselves.

These are two questions that Jesus invites us to take to heart.

And they are important questions—terribly important.

For how we answer them may determine how we will be judged when, like the father in O. Henry’s story, we too appear before the judgment seat of God to give an account of our lives on earth.

Series III
26th Sunday of the Year
Numbers 11:25–29; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 47–48

The Gospel
One person’s decision to live the Gospel can change thousands.

It is better for you to enter life without a foot than to keep both feet and be thrown into hell.” Mark 9:45

Millard Fuller attended law school at the University of Alabama in the early 1970s. His goal was to become “fabulously rich.” He was “obsessed with making money.”
Fuller married his wife, Linda, in his senior year in college
and they began a family immediately. His drive to become rich, however, took its toll on his family.

He was spending all of his time at work and virtually no time with his family. It got to the point where Linda was seriously considering leaving him.

Then one night they sat down together and talked out their situation. The conclusion they came to brings us to today’s Gospel, where Jesus says,
“If your hand makes you lose your faith, cut it off.”

In other words, Jesus is saying: If money is keeping you from living the Gospel, then you’d better make a few changes.
It’s better to make the changes now than to lose your life in the world to come. And that’s exactly what Millard and Linda decided to do.

They were millionaires, but their wealth was destroying both of their lives. Worse yet, it was threatening to destroy their lives in the world to come.
Incredibly—and you can check this out, if you doubt it—they decided to give away every cent of their millions. Their friends, families, and associates were shocked and disbelieving.

After giving away everything, Millard and Linda moved into
an interracial community in Georgia, called Koinonia. It was founded by Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament.

To make a long story short, it was through his Koinonia experience that Fuller got the idea to begin building nonprofit homes with no-interest loans for and in partnership with the poor, who would occupy them.

Thus, in 1976 the idea behind Habitat for Humanity was born.

The idea captured the imagination of all kinds of concerned people. So much so that by the year 2000, Habitat was building 10,000 homes a year with volunteer help of many people and sources.

For example, four presidents—Carter, Reagan, Bush,
and Clinton—have all spent time working side by side with volunteers carrying lumber, sawing, and swinging a hammer.

Others became involved, not only in contributing money
but actually doing on-site work.

Among those who undertook to sponsor homes by soliciting contributions are Oprah Winfrey, the United States Congress,
Fortune 500 companies, college students, and high school students.

Most recently, corporations like AT&T, McDonalds,
Bell South, Maxwell House Coffee, and GMAC have become involved.

How well built are the Habitat homes?
Habitat points out proudly that when Hurricane Andrew ripped through southern Florida in 1992, the 27 Habitat homes in its path survived with little or no damage.

This brings us back today’s Gospel. When we listen to it,
it never fails to get our attention. To make his point,
Jesus uses a shocking image. It is this:

We must be prepared to take drastic measures to separate ourselves from whatever might be keeping us from living the Gospel.

What Jesus has in mind is beautifully illustrated by the story behind Habitat for Humanity.

When Millard Fuller saw what his obsession for money was doing to his life and family, he performed the kind of radical surgery Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel.

But the story behind Habitat goes even a step beyond that. It shows how the courageous decision of two people to live the Gospel can work miracles.

Not only did Millard and Linda’s decision
change their lives, but it has since
changed the lives of millions of others.

Today, Habitat for Humanity is helping the poor in 40 different nations.
But it does not stop even here. Apart from the hope it gives the poor, it inspires those who get involved to change their own lives for the better.

It inspires them to begin living as Jesus taught us to live.
Typical is the woman who said to Fuller:

“Thank God for Habitat for Humanity. It brought my husband back to the church. He hadn’t been to church in twenty years.

“He started volunteering for Habitat for Humanity,
and three months ago he woke up on Sunday morning and said,
‘I want to go to church with you.’”

Today’s Gospel story and the story of Habitat for Humanity are stories that we all need to hear.

They illustrate that the miracle of the multiplication of the
loaves and fishes continues to repeat itself whenever and wherever just one person decides to live the Gospel.

Had Millard Fuller decided to pursue his obsession for money, everything we have been describing would never have happened. And what a tragedy that would have been.

It becomes scary—at least to me—to think about what might happen in our world if no other Christians decided to live the gospel message as Millard and Linda Fuller decided to do.

Let’s close with these words of Albert Schweitzer.
You may recall that he gave up a career on the concert stage of Europe to work as a medical doctor among Africa’s poor. He said:

I have always held firmly to the thought that each of us can do something to bring to an end some portion of the world’s misery. . . .

[And I have become convinced] that the only ones among us
who will be really happy are those
who have sought and found a way to serve.