Homily: What Do We Value?

September 26, 2021 – Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Numbers 11:25-29 / James 5:1-6 / Mark 9:38-48

The following is the homily I will be delivering at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:

This is graphic language Jesus is using: Tying a millstone around our neck and getting thrown in the sea, cutting off hands and feet, plucking out eyeballs, visions of worms and unquenchable fire. It is certainly not the way we normally hear Jesus talk to His disciples. But Jesus was an accomplished teacher; He knew that sometimes He needed to shake things up a little to grab the attention of his audience.

What’s really at the heart of this graphic language? What was Jesus trying to tell his disciples back then? What is he trying to tell us now?

His point is really quite simple: He wants us to identify what causes us to stray from the right path, stray away from God. He already knows what it is, but it is important that we recognize it ourselves. What is keeping us from having the type of relationship with God that we would like to have, that we are called to have? What distracts us? What habits have we developed that encroach on time we could be focusing on God? Time we could be using to deepen our faith?

According to an April 2021 survey, US adults spend an average of 12 hours and 9 minutes per day consuming media. That includes watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, playing video games, and using their cell phones to text, take pictures, or make calls. If we take the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel literally, perhaps we need to pluck out our eyeballs or cut off our texting fingers, or smash our computers and cell phones.

However, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus is saying. Instead, maybe we hold back 30 minutes from those 12 hours and devote that time to God – to pray, to read Scripture, to sit in silence, or to serve others.

We show God what we value by how we spend our time and our resources.

On my morning commute, I see so many people in their cars, holding their morning cup of coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. I personally stop every morning at the gas station convenience store for a 32 oz. fountain Diet Coke. I myself am a proud member of the Circle K ‘Sip n Save’ Drink Club.

Our well-planned morning routine was built in such a way as to allow for enough time to get our caffeine fix. With morning traffic, waiting in the drive-thru line, ordering the coffee, driving to the first window to pay, picking up our order, and getting back into the morning traffic – on a good day this is at least a 10-12 minute exercise. If we take what Jesus had to say in today’s Gospel literally, perhaps we need to cut off the foot we use to press on the accelerator or slash the tires of our car.

However, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus is saying. Instead, perhaps one day a week we could skip the coffee run. That would give us at least 10-12 minutes once we arrive at work to find a quiet spot and spend that time growing our relationship with God.

We show God what we value by how we spend our time and our resources.

The world tells us we need “things”to be somebody. We need the best of this or the newest version of that. Our desire for more and more things takes away from our relationship with God. We amass material things and they become idols to us. We are in this world, but we do not need to be of this world. If we take what Jesus had to say in today’s Gospel literally, perhaps we throw all of our worldly possessions – all the stuff on which we place so much importance, our clothes and shoes and iPhones – into the fires of Gehenna.

However, I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying. Rather, can we get by with less; can we simplify? What things are we no longer using? Can they be donated? Can the money we were going to use to buy more stuff be spent on food to donate to the local food pantry? In serving others, we serve God and enhance our relationship with Him.

We show God what we value by how we spend our time and our resources.

Cardinal Tobin, former Archbishop of Indianapolis, once told this story: Mother Teresa was visiting the United States and came to his parish in Detroit. She needed a specific amount of money for a building project she wanted done. She made her appeal and the parish responded. When the money was counted, she had collected just the amount she needed.

Cardinal Tobin, then Father Tobin, was disappointed, hoping that his parish would have been more generous and sent Mother Teresa home with more than she needed. He apologized to her that the parish wasn’t able to do more for her. Mother Teresa told him she was very pleased, and did not want more than she had asked for. She said, “If I have more than I need, it takes my focus off of God.”

God wants to be more important to us than Facebook, or Starbucks, or the newest iPhone. He wants to be included in our plans for the day. He does not want to be an afterthought. He does not want to be the first thing cut from our day when our schedule gets too full.

We often hear that a good marriage is 50-50, each spouse contributing equally to maintaining a strong relationship. When Carol and I work with engaged couples, we argue that marriage requires 100-100, with both spouses being “all in” – totally committed to the success of the relationship.

When we consider our relationship with God through that same lens, what do we find? We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves how much we are contributing to this critical relationship. How one-sided has it become?

Personally, I know that God pours more into me than I offer him in return. Contributions to the relationship are extremely lopsided. Unfortunately, the hope of matching God’s attentiveness to me seems unrealistic. I’m too far behind and the mountain is too high.

That said, God is compassionate. He will patiently wait if we work at it, if we make progress, if we take gradual steps toward him.

Taking that first intentional step is key. Maybe the 30 minutes we take from our 12 hours of media consumption will turn into 40 minutes, then maybe an hour. Maybe the one day we skip our coffee to spend quiet time in prayer will become 2 or 3 days. Maybe we will learn from Mother Teresa and cut out some of the excess in our lives that takes our focus off of God.

Jesus is not asking us to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands or our feet. However, he does want a part of us. He wants our time. He wants our attention. He wants our heart.

We show God what we value by how we spend our time and our resources.

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