SUNDAY’S READINGS | September 26, 2021

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22 or Num. 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Ps. 124 or Ps. 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

There is little risk that we will take this passage literally: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to be thrown into hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:43-48). We have our doubts, severed hands and feet, torn out eyes, hell and the worm that never dies, and fire that never wanes. Where is the love? Jesus, meek and humble of heart, where are you?

We stumble in what we do (the hand), where we go (the foot), and what we behold (the eye). We stumble toward death and hell. All have sinned, and all are lost. So Christ has come, not merely to be with us in this condition, but to purge and transform us. His love is surgical. He tells us to cut off the hand, amputate the foot, put out the eye, but it is his purging grace that does this, leaving us in what seems greater need. Then, as in the miracle stories of Christ and of his disciples throughout the ages, the grace of Christ heals the maimed, the lame, the blind, the deaf, raises even the dead. Having purged and healed, Christ gives a new work to do, a new path to walk, new insight to behold all his redeeming work. Jesus Christ, then, is not a little religion added to our questionable lives. He is the great physician, the one who burns away the dross of sin and death and gives new and everlasting life. Jesus Christ is our death and resurrection.

We have been cleansed, purged, and stripped in the waters of Baptism. We have renounced Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. Anointed with holy oil, we have been marked as Christ’s own forever. This sacred seal upon the forehead is also a sign of healing and resurrection. Christ, the perfect fulfillment of the law, revives the soul, is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent, is just and rejoices the heart, is clear and gives light to the eyes, is clean and endures forever, is true and righteous, is more precious than gold, sweeter far than honey (Ps. 19:7-10).

It takes a measure of imagination to read Scripture rightly; it takes patience and sifting. The God who created all things out of his infinite love cannot hate his created being. And yet that very same love refuses to leave us subject to the power of sin and death. The mercy of Christ is the medical intervention of Christ. He cuts out the cancer of death and then provides a path to healing and life.

Jesus is not trying to make us a little better; he intends to make us new beings, participants in his eternal life. He will tell us what to do (for Christ), where to go (to Christ), and what to behold (Christ’s redeeming works and Christ himself). And because his command is perfect freedom, our obedience is also our freedom.

Look It Up: Mark 9:42-47 and Ps. 19:13

Think About It: Purgation and then “I shall be whole and sound.”