Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14
Second Reading: Letter of St. James 5:1-6
Gospel: According to St. Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
In his masterful work The Christian Idea of Man the great twentieth century Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper defines ‘self-deception’ as “an unobjective perception of reality dictated by the will” – in layman’s terms: delusion is caused by me believing that reality is what I want it to be rather than what it is. It is the philosophical version of the Paul Simon lyrics in “The Boxer,” “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.” Pieper then points out that ‘ideology’ is self-deception taken to the level of group-think.
As a continuation of this sight-related image, in Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus gives a dire warning to His followers:
“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, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”
As individuals we are all prone to self-delusion and when we get together with others who are like-minded we very often fall into the pit of ideology. It seems a common occurrence that people are willing to put up with just about any behavior from those who sit on their side of the aisle, or who wear the logo of their favorite team. For those who remember back to the Draymond Green incident against LeBron James in the NBA championship series in 2016 our reaction was “dirty cheat”. Had he played for the Cavs we’d have called him “Cleveland tough”. Ideology always seems to cross the finish line way ahead of clear-sighted authenticity.
The opposite of self-delusion and ideology is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. And, fortunately for us all, the Gospel addresses those who are beholden to self-deception and ideology not by condemning, but by offering an olive branch:
“For whoever is not against us is for us.”
This is a statement that today would be called ‘inclusive’ as opposed to the one that appears in Matthew’s account, which would be considered “exclusive”:
“Whoever is not with Me is against Me.”
These words of Jesus do not so much contradict each other as complement each other. For if the goal of the Church is full evangelization – a world where all people are baptized into the Catholic Faith – then those who are with Jesus now can bring the Gospel to those who are not against Him with the hope of together being able to bring into the fold those who oppose Him.
If that mission is successful and people begin to see themselves and their beliefs as Jesus sees them, then maybe there will be no need for people to pluck out their eyes and all might one day see what they truly want to see – the Kingdom of God – and disregard both self-delusion and ideology.