Maria and I got a text from Joshua this morning that made us smile. He had just finished the first big exam of his freshman year at the University of Dayton. “So I breezed through it (Calculus) until the last question, and then I waged war for about 25 minutes on the last question, but I think I got it.” Waged war?!? What an interesting way to put it. Hyperbole. Josh emphasized his point by exaggerating his challenge.
Jesus uses hyperbole in this week’s Gospel. Keep that in mind as you read this passage from Mark because it should challenge you.
At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
"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. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. 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.'" Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
John's report prompts an interesting reply from Jesus. As we sift through the hyperbole of Jesus’ reply, we need to understand why He chooses to use exaggerated statements to make His point. Jesus obviously wants his disciples to clearly understand what is at the core of the issue. The answer is in the end of the first paragraph. “…will surely not lose his reward.” What is the reward? Jesus mentions it in the second paragraph when He says, “enter into the kingdom of God”.
Keeping this in mind we see how Jesus’ hyperbole points to the core issue. Temptation! Jesus has prescribed drastic measures intended to inspire the disciples to resist temptation. That should stop you and me in our tracks! The challenge for us is that we are not always aware of the things that tempt us.
Joshua was aware last night. I knew he was nervous about this test in spite of all the hours he had studied. He wondered if he should continue to study. He asked if I thought it was okay for him to have some down time before going to bed. What Josh was really asking me was if I thought it was okay for him to play some FIFA, his favorite PlayStation soccer game. He knew he was tempting himself by doing so. In the past, Josh has stayed up half the night playing entire soccer seasons on the PS4. My advice to Josh was to take a break and enjoy himself for a little while before going to bed early. He did and I expect a good grade on his calculus exam will be his reward.
Now with Joshua's help I'll try some hyperbole of my own.
WAGE WAR against your temptations because victory will be heavenly!