The manager of a small grocery store peered out the window and saw a teenager staring at the tempting display of fruits on a cart situated in front of the store. The manager was concerned and went out to the boy. “Are you trying to steal my fruit young man?” “No sir,” replied the boy, “I’m trying not to.”
Temptation comes in all different shapes and sizes. The attraction for or lure of something that is not ours or to do something that we should not do can characterize temptation. Temptation is part of life. Archbishop Fulton Sheen captured it this way: “You are not tempted because you are evil; you are tempted because you are human.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of avoiding temptation. Temptation leads to sin and so it should be avoided. He uses extreme examples for emphasis: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off … if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off … if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” He does not mean for this to be taken literally. The old saying holds true: “If this were taken literally, we would all be walking around blind and lame.”
Jesus is using the imagery to stress a point. We should do whatever is necessary to avoid sin. If something regularly temps us, we should take steps so as to lessen the encounter.
The context for this teaching is likewise important. Jesus speaks of the effects our sins have, not only on ourselves but also on others. He says: “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.”
In our lives we share a communion with Christ and with each other. Our actions affect each other. St. Paul speaks of this when he uses the body and its members to describe the Church. He also illustrates this when he writes, “if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
Such is not the case for sin. In other words, when one sins that does not mean that all sin. However, the effects of sin do affect the whole. This is readily seen in sins which are grave. So Jesus urges us to avoid sin and to avoid those things that can lead us to sin.
The first reading calls to mind the grace of God and the power for good that he offers to mankind. In this case the Lord bestows a share of “the spirit that was on Moses” on the 70 elders. We see that with divine assistance they were able to prophesy. When Joshua points out to Moses that Eldad and Medad were not present when the spirit was bestowed but they also received a share, Moses replies, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” Such a great gift to be a prophetic voice, a proclaimer of God’s word, that Moses wishes it for all.
His wish would see fulfillment in Pentecost when Jesus sends His spirit on all the people. We might also remember that in the baptismal rite we are anointed as priest, prophet and king. God’s grace abounds in our lives to help us to grow in goodness and to proclaim His word in our words and deeds.
As we celebrate the liturgy today we celebrate God’s presence in our lives who continually calls us to new life in Him. Being one with Christ and with one another in Christ we are called to build up the Body of Christ through living good lives. We ask Him to help us, through His grace, to avoid sin, to resist temptation and to proclaim His love in our care and concern for others.
Msgr. Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.