I was struck this week by the numerous comparisons of Jesus especially because He returns several times to telling His disciples what is “better for you”. It might surprise us to realize what Jesus actually teaches is better for them!
He says for instance that it would be better to be maimed than to have two hands or two feet or two eyes one of which is causes us to stumble and fall in our faith; to be scandalized (literally a stumbling block)! Maybe even more incredible than this is the statement he makes about causing another believer, Jesus’ little ones who believe in Him, to stumble or to create an obstacle between them and God! He says, in this case, that it “would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” In plainer words: It would be better if you were dead! Remember the words of Jesus from last week: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me!” How we treat one another, especially believers, is how we treat God.
The implication to what Jesus is saying is testifying not only to the fact that love and service of God is tied intrinsically and totally tied to love of neighbor but also that there are eternal and serious implications if we put an obstacle between another person and Jesus!
What kind of effort and care for our relationships with others and with God does Jesus teaching imply? What is the greatest priority then in each persons life? What should we be striving for? Jesus is indicating that we should, above all things, strive for right relationships with God and with others. Do not His words seem to suggest that friendship with Jesus and faith in Him is to be prized and sought above anything else – even above life and bodily health? I think so. Doesn’t this teaching radically change our picture and understanding of what it means to be healthy? Is the healthy person the one with the fit body? Is the healthy person the one with all the riches in the world? No, not according to the Lord. The measure of health comes from a persons relationship with God and others! Interestingly enough, when we speak of salvation and the importance of being saved the root hat word is the word ‘safe’ which actually means health! Salvation is the true health! Right and faithful relationship with God and God’s little ones is the measure of health!
In light of this new understanding of health, of what is truly better for us, maybe we might also better understand the other readings we heard. Moses spoke, “Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets! And that the Lord would put His spirit on them!” Why? Because they would all be close to God and work in accord with His spirit to lead others to Him! Would that all God’s people were so very close to God and strived to bring God’s word to the hearts of others! So to, in St. James condemnation of the rich and their selfishness, it is principally because they have caused others – especially the poor and the little – to stumble and suffer. Their riches do not lead them to deeper communion with others, rather the opposite, their wealth is a scandal for others and a cause for rejecting the ‘little children’ of faith that Christ equates with Himself! Their riches destroy their health and become an obstacle for their own salvation and for others!
All of this underscores for me what the most important work is – every other work needs to be seen and understood as subordinated to it. That work is to grow in relationship with Jesus through faith and to spread that same faith in Jesus to others. To go to God and live faithfully in communion with Hm and to bring others, welcoming them in His name, to the same beautiful reality. This is the picture health! His communion might also be said to be the source of our full and lasting health since, close to God, we will draw life and continual grace from Him. So, even if it costs us a limb or two, “It is better for [us]!”