“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…”
Friday, 1 October 2021
Mark 9:38-43, 47-48
Discipline can be defined as training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour.
We often hear of the breakdown of discipline in South Africa. People ignore rules, they act on whim or desire with no regard for the consequences of their actions which often affect others. Parents (and schools) struggle to know how best to discipline youngsters and instil in them a code of behaviour.
Yet, at the heart of what Jesus is inviting us to in the Gospel is live disciplined lives. He knows that our behaviour has an impact on others. Remember how St Paul speaks of the community as a body with many parts (1 Cor 12:12)? Therefore, what one member of the community does affects the whole body and not just that part. The loss of a hand, foot or an eye is obviously a hyperbolic expression but Jesus uses this to hit home the importance of being disciplined and living the code of behaviour he invites us to live, the Christian life of love and service. Not doing so is to loose an important ‘limb’ of life.
We do not love only when we feel like it. We do not serve only when we feel like it. Those who truly love may not feel loving at a particular time, but they choose to love despite their feeling at a given time – ask any married couple! The same with service.
St Paul uses another image. He says that, like an athlete, he had to discipline his body (1 Cor 9:27). To be a good athlete one has to be disciplined in physical training and things like diet – even when you do not feel like it! He also points towards the relationship between living the Christian code of life and salvation. Gehenna – which Jesus says the one who lives an undisciplined and sinful life will be thrown into – is a valley outside Jerusalem which is the symbol of corruption and death which awaited those who rebelled against God (Isa 66:24).
In the context of our Christian life, paradoxically, being disciplined is not to be restricted. The invitation to live disciplined lives, the Christian code of behaviour, is so that we can be free – find the true freedom we desire!
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and great spiritual figure of last century puts it this way: “In a world of noise, confusion and conflict it is necessary that there be places of silence, inner discipline and peace. In such places love can blossom.” The practice of discipline, a code of living, opens us up to love.
Take time today to consider your own attitude to discipline. When you hear this word what does it evoke? Restriction or freedom? What spiritual disciplines might help you live the code of Christian life better? What practice will open you up so that your love can blossom?