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Jaime L. WatersAugust 20, 2021
A cross in silhouette against the sunset in a field with birds flying in the distance.Photo by Arthit_Longwilai on iStock.

Today’s readings build on last Sunday’s teachings on living and leading well. In the second reading and the Gospel, we continue to learn about characteristics and attitudes that are central to faith in Christ. We hear important critiques of wealth disparities and injustices that can inform our practices and policies today. We are also reminded of the importance of hospitality. At the end of the Gospel, we hear a series of hyperbolic statements that stress the importance of avoiding temptations and living righteously.

‘Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will surely not lose his reward.’ (Mk 9:41)

Liturgical day
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Nm 11:25-29; Ps 19; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-48

What can you do to promote justice in society?

Do you welcome people from outside of your community?

How do you seek forgiveness and reconciliation?

James speaks to his community about economic issues, criticizing rich people and anticipating their downfall: “Your wealth has rotted away…. You have stored up treasure for the last days.” James’ criticisms are not based solely on their wealth; rather, they are focused on financial corruption. The wealthy have withheld wages from workers, living in luxury while people in the field cry out for a living wage. This image of wealth disparities and corresponding economic exploitation has many resonances today, when many people are unable to support themselves with a living wage. The reading must inspire us to work to end poverty and fight for economic justice, principles that are prominent in Catholic social teaching.

The Gospel reading from Mark stresses hospitality, as Jesus insists that people who welcome believers of Christ will be rewarded. Jesus states that anyone, even someone outside the faith community, who extends hospitality (offers a drink of water) “will surely not lose his reward.” The Gospel reminds us to welcome and care for all people, even those outside our faith and social communities.

At the end of the Gospel, we hear several hyperbolic statements that may sound familiar: If your hand (foot or eye) causes you to sin, cut it off. Because these body parts are sometimes used as euphemisms related to sex, some interpreters have understood these statements as prohibitions against certain sexual actions. The statements are more compelling when read as broadly referring to sin. Mark depicts Jesus speaking in intense, exaggerated terms to show the corruption of sin. The point is not for people to maim themselves but to strive to live righteously, avoiding actions that corrupt themselves and society. The text can inspire us to hold ourselves and others accountable for corrupt actions and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Lectionary situates this Gospel with the reading from James and also with the first reading from Numbers, which includes a condemnation against jealous behavior. Hearing all three texts together elucidates the power and importance of living in ways that honor ourselves and others, building welcoming communities that enable all people to thrive. The readings also remind us to avoid temptations to sin and to work to live righteously.


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