Dear fellow pilgrims,
We had quite the…uh…blunt readings for today, huh? God was not mincing words for these readings. The first reading paints a brutal picture of how the rich people of the world will be “devoured” by their corroding gold and silver pieces, how they have “fattened their hearts for the day of the slaughter,” feeding on the luxuries of the world instead of service and living a life of humility. The second reading, straight from Jesus’ mouth, reminds us of the primacy of living for the promise of eternal life, even if it means sacrificing things that seem so crucial to our lives if they lead us to sin (e.g. “cutting off” hands and feet, which I am guessing our Lord is using as figurative examples).
What struck me from these readings is that both the righteous and the unrighteousness go through the flames, but this process means two completely different things for each of them: there is the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, being “salted with fire,” but there is also the punishing fire of Gehenna in eternity. We pick our own fire, is the prevailing—and soul-searching, eye-opening—theme of these verses.
Part of this purifying fire of sanctification on earth that we must go through is explained by the gruesome example of cutting off limbs, sacrificing them, if they “cause you to sin.” I think once we get past the gruesomeness of the example, we can see that this is alluding to how we sometimes have to make extreme decisions about our habits or aspects of daily life that seem so given and owed and normal to us, like the use of a hand (or a smartphone or tablet…), if they are clearly causing us to turn away from God over and over again. Because it is better for us to be without these things during the life in which we think we need them than be without eternal life because of the sins we harbored due to our own preference for convenience or pleasure or pick your poison reason.
I think the fire we all need to experience on earth is the fire that burns away all that is of this world, the way in which we evaluate ourselves and others, and begins to see an eternal perspective from God’s point of view. Because while we are here, our default setting is of the world, we need to let God purify us with the fire of His Love, we need to let us “salt us with fire” if we want to remain in Him when we pass away from this life. The short-sightedness of the rich man in the first reading is on full display when we think about the tombs of Egyptian kings and queens…who literally thought they were taking it all with them after they died! I think it’s a helpful exercise to think about our lives in this way…what are we accumulating in our tombs to truly bring with us on our way back home to the Father’s embrace? What does He want us to bring to Him?
When I ask God this question, I hear “bring me the parts you can’t fix.” Well…yeah, God, that’s pretty much all of them…but I do hold so much of what I need to change about myself in my own tight clutches that it never truly gets healed. What do you hear from God when you ask Him about what He wants us to give Him on our journey back home? What is the hand or foot you might need to sever to avoid future sin? What is the loss you are trying to avoid by not giving that over to God, what experience of “being maimed,” or without, in this life are you afraid of and valuing over eternal life? Go into the silent room in your heart and have a conversation with your Father about these things.