This weekend’s Gospel is one of those in which the Lord makes a pronouncement that seems rather . . . uncharacteristic. Certainly rather austere and forboding, to declare that it is better to enter the Kingdom of God maimed or half-blind than to be cast into outer darkness, perfectly whole (see Mk 9:47-48).
Tonight Craig and I are watching The Mermaid’s Chair, a movie based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, about a woman who returns to her childhood home on Egret Island when her mother, a cook at the local monastery, deliberately chops off her own finger and buries it near the island shrine dedicated to its little-known patron, Saint Sonora. There she encounters Brother Thomas, who takes her on a winding journey to rediscover both the power of the island . . . and her own interior landscape. None of this would she have been able to do, had the tragedy not occurred.
“It is better to cut it off . . .” The Scriptures are full of stories in which something is lost, so that something better might come. The Prodigal Son, had he not gone on his walkabout, would be merely ‘The Whiney Younger Brother.” The high priest’s servant who lost his ear, and had it miraculously restored by Christ, gave Jesus the opportunity to show that he was offering himself freely into the hands of those who sought to kill him. Through the centuries of every generation have cast aside wealth, prestiege, and even family in order to take up a particular calling. This stripping, this abandonment was a vital component of achieving the sanctity to which they aspired.
Sitting in church today, listening to the reading, I wondered how many of Jesus’ disciples heard his words and wondered at them. The road ahead was long and winding, and those walking along would not have been able to see very far along the path. But one by one, each of them faced their stripping. And from those seeds of martyrdom, the crop of finest wheat sprang up for the Kingdom.
As for me, I strain to see farther than the next bend in the road. Somehow it feels as though I’m being forced to cut off and cast aside something infinitely more precious than a hand or foot or eye. At least for now, we’ve been separated from our son — forcibly, painfully, and without recourse. Our singular hope is that, when the time is right, that painful cutting will produce a finer crop of wheat than we could now imagine.
What is God stripping from you right now? What is he asking you to release back into his hands? Nothing yet? Fear not. The bend in the road is just ahead.
Photo Credit: Kerry Olson, “Wicklow Road, Ireland” from “Scenes from Around the World.”