The word “Gospel” means “good news.”
Jesus gives us some good news today.
However, he spends more time today on bad news.
The apostles have seen a man invoking the name of Jesus to cast out demons.
The apostles wanted the man to “cut it out” because he doesn’t hang out with them and Jesus.
Jesus tells them to let the man be.
He might not be a formal member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, but the Lord Jesus tells the apostles:
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
In the eyes of the Lord Jesus, such a person even has a reward coming.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
Let’s turn that around, a little sideways or even upside down.
Do I know a fellow Christian that I refuse to give a drink of water to, or that I even refuse to talk to?
If so, I might in the end find the Lord turning his own words today upside down or sideways on me.
Amen, I say to you,
you will surely lose your reward.
What will “losing your reward” be like?
This is where Jesus starts to lay on the bad news real thick.
Today and at other times throughout his Gospel, Jesus teaches about a place of eternal punishment.
Today he describes it as a place where the thirsty fires and hungry worms never die.
He tells us to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands and feet, rather than sin and end up in eternal loss and pain.
It’s high drama in the Gospel today.
Jesus is dead serious about our avoiding sin.
We can sin by preventing others from doing good.
That’s what the apostles tried to do to the man invoking the name of Jesus to cast out demons.
We can do evil ourselves— with our eyes, our actions and even with our thoughts.
In the very middle of today’s Gospel, there is one other kind of sin.
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
Jesus says I’d be better off to be killed rather than to lead a fellow Christian into sin.
Jesus is letting us have it with the bad news today.
He’s fighting for us.
He loves us, and even died fighting for us.
He would rather see us suffer mutilation than to be lost to him forever through our sins.
God wants to give himself to us forever.
If the Son of God had simply ascended into heaven with his human body intact, but without having suffered and died, that would have been pretty grand.
If he had ascended into heaven without first dying and rising, we could still speak of human nature and the human body now being seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
If he had ascended without first dying and rising, we could still look forward to Jesus at the right hand of the Father as the first harvest and the guarantee of our own human destiny.
However, one immeasurably important reality would be missing.
If the Son of God had come to earth without ever suffering death, then we could ask, “How real is his love?”
“How close to us was he really willing to get?”
The real, historical, human death of the Son of God shows that Love-in-Person sets no boundaries or conditions to its total self-giving.
Except for committing sin, God in Christ took a complete share in our human reality, even a complete share in the worst thing that happens to a human being on earth: innocent death by murder.
Though he never sinned, the Son of God on earth personally entered into full communion— not just with the splendors and joys of human life— the Son of God on earth entered into full communion with us for better AND for worse— IN THE GOOD AND IN THE WORST, YES, COMMUNION WITH US EVEN IN DEATH.
Having died as a man, God then rose from the dead into glory, but STILL INCARNATE AS A HUMAN BEING.
NOW the communion is completely shared.
God in Christ came from the heights of heaven into the human race and hit the absolute bottom.
Now our own humanity— in the resurrection and ascension of Christ— our own humanity has gone up from the miserable deep— our own humanity has gone up on high into God himself.
The communion that God has chosen to enter into with us is complete.
He fought and died and rose for complete communion between himself and us.
The same complete communion between God and us is the priceless gift that he lets us eat and drink in the Eucharist.
He offers himself in the Eucharist as less than a slave.
God in the Eucharist gives himself as food for sinners.
What a sign and reality of love setting no boundaries or conditions in giving himself!
The Eucharist is also “gospel”— good news.
No wonder Jesus began his preaching by saying:
have a change of heart and mind—
repent and believe in the Gospel!
Do whatever it takes to repent— even if it costs you an eye, a hand or a foot!