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Notice and Choose

What prevents you from experiencing the fullness of life? Julia Claire Landry, Director of Retreats, reflects on the readings for Sunday, September 30, imploring us to notice and choose.


For the readings used for this reflection, please go to the linked page.
“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna…” (Mark 9:47)
Do any of you feel a little uncomfortable when someone starts yelling about sin in church? I know I do! It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it! If you’re like me, you might feel like, “Come on, Jesus, it’s the start of Week 3. Way too early to jump into all this hellfire and brimstone, don’t you think?”
As uncomfortable as it may be, are you willing to look for the Good News Jesus offers us in this harsh Word? All the exhortations about “body modification” – better to cut off a foot or hand, or pluck out an eye – than to go to Hell (Gehenna) with body fully intact, are a response to a controversy the disciples bring to Jesus about who can and can’t cast out demons. Just before this passage Jesus himself was casting out demons and what did he say? "Everything is possible to one who has faith." (Mark 9:23) Everything is possible! The Gospel of Jesus—the Good News of Jesus—is a message of possibility, abundance, fullness of life and fidelity. Tonight’s reading contains harsh words to be sure.  Jesus speaks strongly in the face of our complacency with an invitation: to NOTICE and to CHOOSE to let go of anything which prevents us from the fullness of life he came to make available to us.
One view that prevents such fullness of life is a polarizing perspective. In Mark’s gospel, we find the disciples preventing someone expelling demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus corrects them: “…no one who performs a mighty deed in my name… can at the same time speak ill of me (Mark 9:39).” It’s just not possible. That polarity doesn’t exist. Healing, liberating work—particularly work done in His name—is the work of Jesus the Christ. Yet rather than seeing the effects of this unknown one’s actions, the disciples dismissed him. He didn’t belong, so they didn’t “count” his contribution.
This story isn’t so new, is it? Joshua voices the same perspective in the book of Numbers. Upon witnessing the prophecy of Eldad and Medad, Joshua says to Moses, “My Lord, stop them (Numbers 11:28).” They were in the camp when Joshua witnessed the Spirit hover over the tent and everyone else was prophesying. So clearly these two should be stopped, right? What was Moses’ response?
"Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all (Numbers 11:29)!"
Aren’t Moses’ words the antithesis of a turf war? The opposite of that “us versus them” mentality we hear in both readings? How easily do we judge whether others are performing up to par, doing the right thing, measuring up to our standards? How often do we bring a view to life that we know who’s in and who’s out, that we know what’s best and what’s not, that we should be the ones to uphold the way things should and shouldn’t be done? Doesn’t Moses response remind us of the way of the God we know – one where the Spirit’s embrace is expansive, inclusive, all-encompassing?
Consider that one and the same inclusive Spirit that hovered over all, creating prophets in tent and camp alike, is the Spirit who spoke, in Jesus’ voice, “For whoever is not against us is for us(Mark 9:40)? How radical! Just a turn of phrase from the far more familiar, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!” but it makes such a difference! “For whoever is not against us is for us.” And yet, don’t we, like the disciples, find fault effortlessly, lay blame quickly, choose default sides without even listening?
Could that be why Jesus uses such harsh language to shock us into listening well? “NOTICE,” it is as though Jesus is saying. “LOOK! See what is really standing in the way of possibility!” Whatever it is, let it go! Even if it’s something good, like a stand you’re taking for my sake… If you’re standing high and mighty, looking down on others, cut off the foot with which you step up to that soapbox. If you’re trying to be faithful to me by pointing out what’s wrong in everyone else, or shaking your fist at the way others are working for my sake, cut off that hand! Such polarities in our perspective become a blind spot to the abundance God wants for all of us. Jesus invites us to pluck out the lens that seeks to divide for the sake of an expansive view: one of freedom and collaboration, possibility and promise.
Are there other views for us to “pluck out”? In the letter of James we find another perspective that divides and constrains us: that of unexamined privilege. What once was offered for all became expected by a few. The gifted became gluttons, and such luxurious pleasure became the portent of their destruction.
Lest we seek the same suffering, might we consider what we take for granted? What distinguishes these four years you will spend at Santa Clara from time at another academic institution or a different life path? Is it not the legacy of Ignatian Spirituality at the heart of this campus’ charism? And yet, how many times do I sit with a senior who says, “I’m so glad I found these prayers, this way of life, this perspective on how to be in the world. I just wish I’d found it sooner.” Or a student who says, “I went to a Jesuit high school so I remember a lot of this, but it’s been a while.” For whatever reason it’s easy to label ourselves “spiritual people” even as we set aside any form of disciplined or deep engagement with the Divine, letting isolated epiphanies and sporadic spontaneous encounters “count” for the whole of a relationship with God. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love spontaneity. I love epiphanies! I’m the girl sitting on the beach at sunset convinced that God couldn’t be more present anywhere else in the cosmos! AND I invite you to consider that while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being “spiritual,” if the ways you engage that spirituality are “hit or miss,” it’s simply possible that you may miss—you may miss out on the kind of abundance Jesus beckons us to and the fullness that Ignatius lived his whole life in fidelity and service towards.
Ignatius, or Iggy, as I like to call him, was a companion if anything, striving to befriend God. His whole life was about NOTICING AND CHOOSING: noticing how God is creating right now, how Jesus is alive today, how God’s Spirit is calling me in This Moment. He lived a created life filled with possibility. He fought the temptations to succumb to the polarities and privileges that blind us to Divine possibilities. And in so doing, he created a way of generosity that countless men and women have prayerfully lived into for 500 years and in which WE are privileged to partake.
We are at the start of a new year. A couple weeks in, but still it’s so close to a blank canvas you can almost smell the gesso of a white empty freshness. Jesus’s gospel reminds us that with faith, “Anything is possible.” Our Ignatian heritage also empowers us to claim: Anything is possible in life, anything is possible at the start of this year. What is standing in the way of that fullness for you? Will you have the faith to look?
I invite you to take a look right now. Close your eyes if it helps and just notice: What views stand in the way of limitless possibility for you? Where do you go that keeps you from being the fullness of who God created you to be? What are you doing that’s in the way? Who are you being that’s in the way?
Now hear the voice of Jesus…
Cut off those limiting limbs, pluck out those myopic perspectives. Cut out those behaviors which block the abundance Christ would have you create!
CHOOSE to let it go, whatever “it” is. Give generously.
Cut off that which stands in the way of this kind of expansive life. Fill yourself with this kind of limitless love.
Notice the gifts as gifts.
Notice the views that keep you from such gifts.
Choose to live.
Choose to live fully.