Today’s readings remind us that sin is like a weight that just pulls us down, but charity, even in the smallest details, buoys us up and liberates us from those sinful attachments that threaten to drown us for good.
Just as the Lord poured out his Spirit abundantly on the elders in today’s First Reading, so he wants to pour out a Spirit of charity on all believers. The Holy Spirit is not easy to track by radar at times. He’s seen in what believers do when inspired by him. The two elders who decided to “skip” the meeting where also chosen to help Moses lead the people in the desert, so the Spirit of the Lord descended on them too. This reading was chosen today because it alludes to the first part of today’s Gospel, when someone not directly in Jesus’ immediate group of disciples is casting out demons in his name. Our Lord knows that someone is trying to help him, not hinder him. Any good done in his name will lead others to him.
St. James in the Second Reading warns those who’ve profited at the expense of others that any gain at the expense of charity is the deepest loss for them. The “millstone” for the unjust wealthy in the Second Reading is the wealth they accumulated and hoarded at the expense of others. The Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a period of final purification from earthly attachments before a soul passes into the glory of Heaven (see Catechism 1472). The unjust wealthy will die unable to detach themselves from the very riches and lifestyle that is decaying and passing away before their eyes. If they’d used their wealth for the good of others they’d have done a far greater good for themselves in the bargain. That’s just good “business.” What they saw as gain was really their deepest loss.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us about the power of charity and the gravity of sin. Something as simple as offering a cup of water in acknowledgement of Christ is pleasing and powerful in his eyes. This should re-dimension the power of charity in our own lives. It doesn’t mean being minimalist—just sticking with a refreshments table—but being generous, aware of the power of charity on a greater scale to move hardened hearts, jaded cultures, and a cynical society. Charity provides enough “buoyancy” to keep us afloat and more: it lifts us up and breaks the chains of sin in our lives. Our Lord also warns us about the gravity of sin. Sin puts a spiritual millstone around our necks that one day will drown us in our bankrupt lifestyle unless we seek his help to liberate us. When we find ourselves in a situation of spiritual life and death a radical response is necessary to survive: it may feel like we’re hacking away a part of ourselves, but in that moment that piece of us to which we’re attached could cost us our spiritual life, because we want to hang onto it at the expense of our soul. Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us make a radical response in the face of our sins and return to the path of charity in order to unleash its power for others.
If the Mafia is infamous fitting people for “cement overshoes,” it’s even more tragic to realize that our sinful attachments are like putting on those shoes ourselves, pouring in the cement, and jumping off a pier all by ourselves. The Spirit inspires us to take little steps to divest ourselves of those things that spiritually weigh us down. Our Lord doesn’t just leave us to try and strip off all this dead weight, especially if we’re drowning. He buoys us up with his grace and mercy. Ditch the dead weight before you start drowning.
Readings: Numbers 11:25–29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12–14; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48.