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Reflections for the VIII Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the eighth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that Jesus challenges us to use our words as he used his in his preaching and healing ministry.

(Sir 27:4-7; Ps 92:2-3; 13-16; I Cor 15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45)

Central theme: Jesus draws our attention to practical points of Christian living and challenges us to use our words as he used his in his preaching and healing ministry -- to heal, to restore, and to bring back life, joy and hope. Today’s readings also instruct us to share our Christian life, love, and spiritual health by our words, and to avoid gossiping about, and passing rash, thoughtless and pain-inflicting judgments on others, thus damaging their good reputation and causing them irreparable harm.

Homily starter anecdote: Don't judge a book by its cover: Schoolteacher Dodie Gadient decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught her students about, for the last 13 yrs. Traveling alone in a truck with a camper in tow, she launched out. One afternoon rounding a curve on I-5 near Sacramento in rush-hour traffic, the water pump blew on her truck. She was tired, exasperated, scared and alone. In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping. Leaning up against the trailer she prayed, “Please Lord send me an angel, preferably one with mechanical experience!” Within 4 minutes a huge Harley drove up ridden by an enormous man sporting long black hair, a beard and tattooed arms. With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and without even glancing at Dodie went to work on the truck. Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy and whisked the whole 56-ft rig off the freeway onto a side street where he calmly continued to work on the water pump. The intimidated, schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk. Especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket: Hell's Angels. As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, “Thank you.” Noticing her amazement at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and said, “Don't judge a book by its cover!” With that he smiled, closed the hood of the truck and straddled his Harley. With a wave he was gone as fast as he had appeared. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture lessons, summarized: The first reading, taken from the Book of Sirach, teaches that what is inside us is revealed through our conversation – as the grain and husks are separated in a farmer’s sieve, as the quality of the metal is revealed in the potter’s fire, and as the size and quality of a tree’s fruit reveal the care it has received from the planter. Sirach’s teaching serves as an excellent preview for today’s Gospel, which reminds us, when we’re feeling judgmental, to think before we speak because what comes out of our mouth reveals our heart. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 92) advises us to spend our time praising and thanking God for all His blessings. In the second reading St. Paul advises the Corinthian Christians “to be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” instead of wasting time on useless and sinful conversations, which bring punishment instead of the victory of resurrection and eternal reward. In today’s Gospel passage, taken from the Sermon on the Plain given in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus condemns our careless, malicious and rash judgments about the behavior, feelings, motives or actions of others by using the funny examples of one blind man leading another blind man and one man with a log stuck in his eye, trying to remove a tiny speck from another’s eye.

The first reading explained: In the Greek version of the Bible, the first title of this book was “The Wisdom of Ben Sirach.” It was the book most used in the liturgy.  In fact, in the early Church it was a kind of official catechism used in the catechumenate, and hence its Greek name in the Septuagint is Ecclesiasticus.  According to the prologue and other passages in the book, the inspired author was a learned scribe, a humble and zealous man, who lived in Jerusalem. From an early age he had meditated deeply on Sacred Scripture.  This book played an important part in shaping the Faith of the Jewish people. It equipped them to cope with the imminent menace of Greek culture, which ran completely counter to the monotheism of the people of the Old Covenant. Since the book was written in Greek, not in Hebrew, the Jewish scholars who finalized the canon of the Hebrew Bible after Jesus’ resurrection did not include it in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. But since it was included in the Septuagint, the Catholic Church retains it as an inspired book of the Bible. Sirach advises us not to praise any man before he speaks, for it is then that men are tested. Speech is the principal criterion for evaluating a person’s character. The sacred author first uses an agricultural imagery to explain his point. When a sieve is shaken, the grains fall to the basket beneath the sieve and the husks remain in the sieve showing their ugly emptiness. The same thing happens when a man speaks: his faults, his pride and his ignorance are exposed. The second image used is the potter’s furnace. If the clay isn’t completely dry, the piece explodes in the kiln (furnace). In the same way, conversation is the test of a man. The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; As an example, sycamore fruit had to be punctured to grow fat and juicy; this was the job of the “dresser of sycamores.” In the same way, a man’s speech discloses the bent of his mind. Praise no man before he speaks, for it is then that men are tested. The same metaphor is used by Jesus in today’s gospel. To become a good tree in God’s garden we have to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Scripture gives nine fruits (Galatians 5:22-23), and the Church the Church gives twelve: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Long-suffering, Goodness, Benevolence, Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, continence and Chastity.

The second reading explained: When Paul called the Corinthian Christians to affirm their Faith in the power of Jesus over death by his Resurrection, he challenged them to affirm their freedom from death, from sin and from the Law and to exercise that freedom “by being fully engaged in the work of the Lord,” (v. 58) instead of divesting themselves of the body and all that it entails. Thus, the faithful will transform their corruptible physical bodies into incorruptible spiritual bodies in their resurrection, and experience immortality. Paul denies the teaching of the Corinthian philosophers that the attainment of the “ideal” existence or salvation from this world could be accomplished in individuals by their own efforts to live “properly.” Paul teaches that the transformation to immortality has been made possible for all only because of Jesus Christ. Christ’s resurrection was not only the first example of the final resurrection but also one that will make all other resurrections of the believers, at the end possible. Paul also argues that our resurrection is an elevation to an entirely new mode of existence because the resurrected will acquire a “spiritual” body. Christ’s death on the cross and his rising alone have accomplished the victory over death. Hence, Paul concludes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The hard work of the Christian life is not in vain, because the Christian is “in the Lord” who has already won the victory.

The Gospel exegesis: Luke might have collected together sayings of Jesus which were spoken on different occasions, thus giving us a kind of compendium of rules for life and living. We may be able to trace four pieces of advice from today’s Gospel passage.

1) Advice for students & teachers of Scripture: The Christian disciples are called upon to be both guides and teachers. Since a teacher cannot lead his students beyond what he himself has been taught, he must learn from the best teacher and then continue to learn Scripture from all available sources, the best being the Holy Spirit Who inspired Holy Scripture. Then, the learner must apply what he has learned to his own life before trying to teach others. Our goal in the Christian life must be to become like our Teacher, Jesus, in our thoughts, words, and actions.

2) We should not be blind guides: In order to lead a blind person, one must be sighted; in order to teach, one must be knowledgeable; otherwise the blind person and the student will be lost. The sight and the knowledge specified here are the insights that come through Faith and the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge that comes from a Faith-filled relationship with the Lord. The point of this image of the blind leading the blind is that we must be careful when choosing whom to follow, lest we stumble into a pit alongside our blind guide. A corollary is that we have no business trying to guide others unless we ourselves can see clearly. This is an important message in a day when so many self-appointed gurus vie for control of our spiritual affairs, our financial affairs, our medical affairs, our romantic affairs, our family affairs. Some are blind, but others see our vulnerabilities—see where they can take advantage of us. When choosing a guide—particularly a spiritual guide—it pays to be very, very careful. This is why it is so important to go in for regular “eye exams.” Every day, Christians should go to God, our spiritual Eye Doctor, to ask Him to check our vision. As we get into the Word, as we pray, He corrects our sight, and He shows us what to watch out for. It is vitally important that we have this regular “eye exam,” because we are not alone in the car. There are people who trust us to lead them to safety. It may be our children, or our spouse. It may be a friend. It may be people in the Church or community who are following where we lead. If we lead them off a cliff because of poor vision, God will hold us accountable. Listen to the words of Paul in Romans 2:19-23. “ If you are confident that you are a guide for the blind and a light for those in darkness, that you are a trainer of the foolish and teacher of the simple,  because in the law you have the formulation of knowledge and truth, then you who teach another, are you failing to teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?”

3) We have no right to criticize and judge others: The first reason Jesus gives us is we have no right to criticize unless we ourselves are free of faults. That simply means that we have no right to criticize at all, because "there is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it ill becomes any of us to find fault with the rest of us." Jesus clarifies his point by presenting the humorous simile of a man with a log stuck in his own eye trying to extract a speck of dust from someone else's eye. It means that the task of fraternal correction (removing specks, etc.) should not be attempted without prior self-examination, though the disciple need not be completely without imperfections before the process can begin.

What did Jesus mean when he said not to judge others? Jimmy Akins: 1) Not a cover for immoral behavior in general. It’s clear that Jesus did not intend his words to be used as a cover for immoral behavior. 2) Not even a cover for sexual misbehavior [Matt. 5:27-28]. 3) Not a prohibition on admonishing others. Jesus also did not intend his words to be used to stop others from admonishing others when they are committing sinful behavior [Matt. 28:19-20]. 4) Not an endorsement of moral relativism. Taking Jesus’ teaching out of context, one might try to use it as a pretext for moral relativism—the idea that all moral judgments regarding the conduct of others are to be suspended and each person is to be allowed to define what is morally good for himself. Then what did Jesus actually say? In both Matthew and Luke, the statements that follow the prohibition on judging indicate that it is an elaboration of the Golden Rule—the idea that we should treat others the way that we, ourselves, want to be treated. 6) When Jesus says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” he means: “Don’t judge or God will judge you.” What Jesus means is that God will judge us. He’s made that perfectly clear in the Bible, and in the teaching of Jesus in particular. There will be a Last Judgment at the end of the world, as well as a particular judgment at the end of our earthly lives. So, it isn’t a question of escaping God’s judgment. It’s a question of how we will be judged. The right approach is to ask: Given that you will be judged for what you have done, what kind of judgment do you want? If we are in our right minds, we want a judgment done with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. And that’s the way Jesus wants us to treat others: He wants us to be merciful, compassionate, and forgiving to them. In this context, what he means by “judging” is the opposite of doing those things—being unmerciful, uncompassionate, and unforgiving. In addition to “not judging” involving being merciful, compassionate, and forgiving to others, it can include other things, such as: Giving others the benefit of the doubt. Leaving the ultimate judgment of others to God instead of simply concluding that someone is (or should be) damned. (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/what-did-jesus-mean-when-he-said-not-to-judge-others-10-things-to-know).

4) We must be good at heart to be good at our deeds: In order to distinguish the good tree from the bad tree we need to look at the fruit the tree produces (deeds) and not at its foliage (words). "The treasure of the heart is the same as the root of the tree," St Bede explains. "A person who has a treasure of patience and of perfect charity in his heart yields excellent fruit; he loves his neighbor and has all the other qualities Jesus teaches; he loves his enemies, does good to him who hates him, blesses him who curses him, prays for him who calumniates him, does not react against him who attacks him or robs him; he gives to those who ask, does not claim what they have stolen from him, wishes not to judge and does not condemn, corrects patiently and affectionately those who err. But the person who has in his heart the treasure of evil does exactly the opposite: he hates his friends, speaks evil of him who loves him and does all the other things condemned by the Lord" (In Lucae Evangelium Expositio, II, 6). In verse 46, Jesus asks us to act in a way consistent with being Christians and not to make any separation between the Faith we profess and the way we live: "What matters is not whether or not we wear a religious habit; it is whether we try to practice the virtues and surrender our will to God and order our lives as His Majesty ordains, and not want to do our will but His" (St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, II, 6).

Life messages: 1) We need to avoid hypocrisy: Let us acknowledge the hypocrisy we all live every day. It is the word Jesus used. We tell people how concerned we are about our kidneys and hearts when we don’t give a second thought to the gaping, rotting wounds of sin covering us from head to toe. It is even worse when someone else falls into sin. Ignoring the glaring faults of our own, we point the finger of accusation, and whisper about them, and say, “How could they?” instead of asking “How could we?” We must look to our own sin first. This is the truth of Luke 6:39-42. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I must be honest with myself. If I have trouble seeing my sin, and my failures, I have to go to Jesus and ask Him to point them out to me through prayer and through His Word. And He will. I must be ready for some painful “I” surgery. But I am sure to come out with better vision, and better eyesight, because I looked to myself first.

2) We should stop judging others harshly and unreasonably because 1) No one except God is good enough to judge others because only God sees the whole truth, and only He can read the human heart; hence, only He has the right and authority to judge us. 2) We are often prejudiced in our judgment of others, and total fairness cannot be expected from us. 3) We do not see all the facts, the circumstances or the power of the temptation, which have led a person to do something evil. 4) We have no right to judge others because we have the same faults and often to a more serious degree than the person we are judging (remember Jesus’ funny example of a man with a log stuck in his eye trying to remove the dust particle from another’s eye?) St. Philip Neri commented, watching the misbehavior of a drunkard: “There goes Philip but for the grace of God.”

3) Hence, we should leave all judgment to God and practice mercy and forgiveness, remembering the advice of saints: “When you point one finger of accusation at another, three of your fingers point at you." Let us pay attention to the Jewish rabbi’s advice: “He who judges others favorably will be judged favorably by God.  (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

28 February 2019, 10:17