Psalms 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35
When I was a little boy I remember my mother telling her sister about some mischievous thing one of her children had done. She was laughing telling the story and at one point she said amidst the chuckling: “I thought to myself, I’ll kill him.” Well, since I have three sisters and no brothers I immediately knew that I was the subject under discussion. Not for a moment did I think my mother had any thoughts of homicide but I did realize that what I had done was serious and, looking back, that my mother must have loved me a lot to use such a strong and serious metaphor mixed with her forgiving laughter.
In this reading from Mark, like others in the gospels, Jesus uses some rather strong language. “You are committing adultery, cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, you hypocrites, have a millstone tied around your neck,” all rather strong language that we of the “Dear Lord Jesus Come and Squeeze Us” generation would prefer not to hear.
Both our readings are about relationships—friendship and marriage. Both these phenomena are miraculous, signs of God’s presence in the world. Neither of them just happens. Sirach gives us good advice on how to find and be a true friend and Jesus tells us how to form a true marriage. It takes a lot of “I dos” for a man and a woman to become a husband and wife. It takes a lot of self-abnegation to be a true friend. Unlike the popular television quiz show, our answer is never a FINAL answer (is that your final answer?) but each "I do" and "I will" is a pledge, a recommitment, a renewal. Ignatius tells us love is shown in actions and not just words. We become friends and/or spouses through our self-giving as well as our self-pledging. We do it when we give and when we forgive. We also do it when we receive and we are forgiven.
The readings also tell us we do not do this alone. Families and individuals must actively encourage the growth of friendships and marriages with love and encouragement, a ready heart and an open ear. Never work to separate what God has joined also means to work to keep together what God has brought together. Rely on God and God’s power. Rely on those around you too.
Yet none of us are perfect friends and not every couple who are pronounced man and wife actually become man and wife. When we fail we seek forgiveness of God and each other and we begin again as best we can.
We must see Jesus’ warning in the total context of his ministry of reconciliation, a ministry that excludes no one who does not choose to be excluded. And even then Jesus, the good Shepherd, comes looking for us. The holy reprimand is to get our attention, to show the seriousness of the situation, but most importantly to concretely demonstrate the love and concern and ready forgiveness for the ones being reprimanded.
Perhaps if I heard my mother say, “I’ll kill him” without hearing her laughter or knowing her profound love for me I would have run to the police! Perhaps if I thought I could never be forgiven of yet another mistake I had made I would have run away from home never to return. We need always to hear the reprimand in the context of love and forgiveness. We need always to remember that Jesus came to reconcile us, in all our weakness and frailty, to God.
All of us.
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