Homily on the 26th Sunday
I have heard people screaming, especially when they are angry “go to hell”. There is no doubt that they don’t mean what they are saying. But in that statement they are expressing their anger and frustration with the other person for what they have done or not done. Hell may be the best place we would like that person go to at that very moment. If we read in between line, it is another way of telling the person that the person is useless and we are disappointed with that person.
Speaking of hell, what kind of images come to your mind? Blazing fire with creatures having horns and tails? Hell is not something that we have seen or smelt or experienced. The Lord is using a special word today the gospel reading for hell- Gehenna, the unquenchable fire. When Jesus used that word, all his listeners clearly understood what he was referring to. Gehenna was an ever burning dumpster of Jerusalem where the city was dumbing all the waste at the time of Jesus. originally Ge bene Hinnom; i.e., “the valley of the sons of Hinnom”), a deep, narrow valley to the south of Jerusalem, where the idolatrous Jews offered their children in sacrifice to Molech ( 2 Chronicles 28:3 ; 33:6 ; Jeremiah 7:31 ; 19:2-6 ). This valley afterwards became the common dumpster for all the waste of the city. Here the dead bodies of animals and of criminals, and all kinds of filth, were cast and consumed by fire kept always burning. It thus in process of time became the image of the place of everlasting destruction. The listeners of Jesus had seen it, heard it, smelt it and understood very well what Jesus was talking about. They may even have seen worms scrawling through those part of the dumpster where the fire has not reached.
What is going to the dumpster? Food that is not eaten, all kinds of waste that is no longer useful! The things that are broken, no longer could be of any use. Dead bodies of both criminals and animals! The Lord was saying, “if you are not useful for my kingdom, human life, family life, community building, good citizens, then you need to be thrown in to Gehenna.
Jesus wants his followers to be useful for something. What was his manifesto, when he started preaching in the synagogue? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. ”He uses the parable of the talents to bring out the message of being useful. What about the story of the fig tree which was not producing any fruits? All the readings this week encourage us to be useful. In the 1st reading Moses appreciates Eldad and Medad, because they were making themselves useful by prophesying. In the second reading, St. James is attacking the futility of collecting earthly treasures at the cost of others. In the Gospel, our Lord is appreciating an outsider, who is casting out demons in the name of Jesus and thus helping him to expand his kingdom. Jesus seems too harsh when he is asking us to cut off of our organs. He wants us to use our God given faculties for the spread of the kingdom of God. “if your hand should cause you to sin cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go to hell…if your foot should cause you to sin cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell…if you eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” Of course we do not cut off our hands or feet or pluck out our eyes. Jesus was speaking metaphorically. In Palestine at that time it was common to speak in this exaggerated way to make a point (hyperbole). For the Jew in Jesus’ time, the hand and the foot represented the areas of human activity. The eyes represented windows to one’s heart and mind. It means, if something is leading us into temptation and sin then we have to avoid that. We call this avoiding occasions of sin. When Jesus says to cut off our hand or foot or pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin he is asking us to avoid whatever it is that leads us on to commit sin.
A friend of mine went for camping with his family. He already set the camp and dropped the family off and then went to pick up food. Late that evening, in a no where place he had a flat tire. While attempting to remove the tire, the jack shifted unexpectedly, and the car fell off the jack. His fingers were trapped underneath the tire. Because the full weight of the car kept his fingers pressed to the road, he could not pull his fingers free, no matter how hard he tried. After some time, praise God, some passersby found him and lifted the van just enough to allow him to pull his fingers free. His trapped fingers were his “difficulty”. Although his fingers are a small part of his body, they prevented his entire body from being free. If no one came to help him, he would have faced two choices: 1) cut off his fingers so his body would be free to live, or 2) keep his fingers and have his whole body die because a small part of it was captive. If you are a captive in even a small part of your life, you can be spiritually paralyzed and headed toward a future in hell. Sin can cling to us and keep us immobile (Heb 12:1). Cut out artificial contraception, watching pornography, unforgiveness, gossip, anger, and all other sins. Does anything else hold you captive, such as watching TV, leisure, luxuries, the pursuit of money, or overeating? Make the cut! Be free, free for eternal life. We all have some attitudes and mentality and life style that has the capacity to take us to eternal damnation. Make the cut today! Be free, free for eternal life
The message of today’s liturgy is very simple: be useful; be useful even in little things. Be useful at home by doing your responsibilities faithfully, be an inspiration for the rest of the family by your good examples, be useful in your parish community by faithfully attending Mass every week and other sacraments. Rather than just going to the church, be helpful in being the church by sharing your time, talent and treasure faithfully. Be useful in your relationships; be helpful in your employment settings. Hell is no place for people who are useful and helpful. It is the place for people who are useless. May no one find ourselves in the dumpster of gehena.