When I was about to enter the seminary I was given a present which contained a scroll with the poem by Robert Frost inside. I always remembers the last words “I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference.”
Today in The Gospel Jesus speaks about sin in quite graphic terms. ‘If your hand causes you to sin cut it off … if your foot causes you to sin cut it off … if your eye should cause you to sin then tear it out’. Jesus does not mean this literally. What he wants is to make his hearers understand is that they are to avoid sin at all costs even if it means going to extraordinary lengths. Jesus expounds on sin. Sin wills what God does not will. There will be times in our lives when we will come to a fork in the road and we will have to make a choice to act in accord with God’s will or not.
A good litmus test of whether we are doing God’s will or not is to ask ourselves another question: “Is what I am doing benefiting the community or not?”. The First Reading and the Gospel have instances of people doing God’s will when they are “outside the camp.” Both Moses and Jesus make the same point that ultimately it does not matter who is doing God’s will as long as God’s will be done. All that matters is that Medad and Eldad in the First Reading and the man casting out devils in the Gospel are doing things that benefit others. This is why Jesus says the man casting out devils is for him.
Sin is the exact opposite. Every sin no matter how private the action may be is a sin against the community. This goes against God’s will because God created each one of us to be in relationship with others. Sin can come in various forms. It can come in the form of jealousy. This is what both Moses and Jesus warn against. It can come in the form of using wealth wrongly to oppress others. This is what St James warns against in the Second Reading. It can come in the form of taking advantage of the vulnerable and in using the image of the millstone Jesus makes it clear that this is totally unacceptable. All are sins against the community because they damage community unity and spirit. Ultimately sin is an action no one benefits from.
The readings pose the question what will my life be about? Each time I pray the Our Father and say the words ‘Thy will be done’ will I mean it? I can’t help wondering if everyone went to extraordinary lengths to avoid sin in their lives what a difference that would make to our church and our world. The cup of cold water that Jesus speaks about reminds us that even doing a little bit of good is progress. Hopefully making a choice for God and seeking to do it in union with others is a road we will take in our lives.