Sometimes Christ’s words are very strong, right? When we hear strong words, they make us wonder. If God loves us, why would he warn us with such vivid imagery? These shocking statements stop us in our tracks. But sometimes we need to stop, pray, and think. Sometimes we need strong words, and God knows this.
Now Christ words were directed toward the twelve. Jesus was about to bestow on them positions of power; not worldly power, but they were going to have influence over the others, the “little ones.” Christ was making them responsible for bringing his salvation to all people. They were to use his “power” to bring people to holiness, not to sin.
After Christ tells them to order their lives according to the good of those they serve, he then instructs them on what to do if anyone is being a bad influence on others. He tells them to “cut them off.” Out of an abundance of compassion for the little ones, the Apostles were to separate themselves from anyone who caused them to sin. Today’s readings are the scriptural foundation for sound practices in the Church and in our lives. These also are the words of Christ which support the Church’s rare practice of excommunication.
This is practical wisdom that Jesus shares out of compassion for the smallest. If one in power sins, it makes that sin attractive to the rest. Christ speaks strongly to those in power so they will use the influence given them for good, not for evil. Such an action is done out of compassion for those Christ has given them to serve.
Now it is important that we recognize that Christ did not ask the Apostles to judge people. He did not say to judge whether a hand was good or bad. No, we are all sinners. Christ says, if one is causing another to sin, then cut them off. One may be a sinner, but may not be influencing others to sin. A person who struggles with sin but who is repentant, this is not a person who causes others to sin.
It is also important to note that Christ did not separate himself from anyone. We are told he ate with sinners. Even within the twelve, Jesus allowed Judas to walk with him. Just last week we heard Peter telling Christ not to accept his cross. But Christ was strong enough to endure bad advice, to endure bad influences. Not so us. Out of compassion for us, he asks us to humbly accept our limitations. Yes we are to try to minister to everyone like Christ, but if we are too weak, if at various times a particular person has been the cause of our sin; Christ instructs us to detach ourselves from them. We are to do this at least for a time, until perhaps he makes us stronger.
Christ was so strong, that no bad influence could deter him from his mission of love. Instead of people being bad influences on him, he was a source of influence, a source of conversion for others. God desires to make us strong like him, holy and virtuous, so we can minister to all like Christ. God asks us to become strong so that we can be good influences on others; strong enough to endure bad influences, bad advice, and bad examples.
So who needs to hear this message? Parents of children need to hear this message; parents are like bishops in their own homes; God has given them a great responsibility for leading their children to holiness. If another family is causing you to sin, if another family is convincing you that you don’t need God, you don’t need Mass, that you don’t need to sacrifice for the good of others; cut them off. Teens too need to hear this. Why do girls accept boyfriends that cause them to lie to their parents, to themselves, and to God? That’s not love. Boys too, why join gangs if they make you sin against God to gain entry? That’s not brotherhood. Out of concern for our little sisters and brothers; out of concern for other friends that we influence with our actions, let us separate ourselves from persons who cause us to sin.
God will make us strong so that we can be a good influence on many, and I’m sure that many of you are very strong. But when we find that with a particular person we are not, let us remember Christ’s words. It’s better to detach ourselves not only for our sakes, but for the sake of those we influence.