by Erik Ritland
The Word and the Church
Bible commentary following the Catholic Lectionary (which gives an overview of the entire Bible) by the Fully Alive staff
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
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Mk. 9: 41-50
If I was a rich person who loved God I would probably despair at lines in the New Testament like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 19:24), “Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim. 6:10), and, from today’s reading:
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
Like with any teaching from the Bible, close reading and context provide illumination. After Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom, he reminds us that all things are possible with God. St. Paul says that the “love” of money is the roots of “all kinds of evil” – money itself isn’t the evil, it just so often and easily leads to it. And in today’s reading, St. James admonishes those who are wealthy because they horde their money, treat workers poorly, and live luxuriously due to exploitation.
The lesson isn’t that you’re damned if you’re rich. If you keep your priorities straight, remember who your wealth actually belongs to, and draw closer to God in your thoughts and actions, it’s quite possible to be rich and still be a beloved servant of God.
In today’s Gospel Jesus has far harsher words for each of us:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
Jesus’ poetic, exaggerated language delivers a startlingly concrete lesson: that sin is real, pervasive, and we each need to look at ourselves often to be sure that we are living a life that is in line with the faith that we profess.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. He is the lead staff writer and podcast host of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, which features commentary on music, sports, and an intellectual ragbag. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.