In the scales of interpersonal relationships, deceit, arrogance and selfishness will be outweighed by integrity, humility and true mutual concern. These qualities create disciples, build community while at the same time defeating death and preparing humanity for immortality.
First reading: Sirach 27:4-7
When archaeologists excavated Qumran in 1947 they found fragments of the book we call Sirach. Seventeen years later, in 1964, similar excavations of the fortress-city of Masada yielded an entire copy of this work. In an ancient synagogue unearthed at Cairo, another copy of Sirach was found. All of these discoveries attest to the popularity among Jews of the wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach even when it was not included in the official canon of scripture. Written in Hebrew around 180 B.C, the scholarly and shrewd author sought to answer the needs of his people in their struggle to maintain their ancient and treasured traditions against the pervading influence of Greek culture by emphasizing the fact that all lovers of wisdom/philosophers would find the source of their preference only in Israel because of law and virtues. Sirach taught that wisdom would be discovered, not in abstract speculation, but in the well-lived life of one who fears the Lord. Two generations later around 130 B.C Sirach’s grandson translated his work into Greek to make its insights readily available to Greek-speaking Jews.
Among the early Christians, this second century B.C anthology of humor, wisdom and practical advice was also popular, as is evidenced by its Greek name: ‘Ecclesiasticus/Book of the Church’. This reading belongs to a longer section of two Chapters concerning integrity, friendship and the dangers that militate against values. Excellent advice for choosing proper companions, today’s text points to a person’s speech as a gauge of inner virtue. The image of the sieve and husks is borrowed from the grain harvesting process. Once the grain has been threshed, it is run through a sieve. While the grain falls through, the husks/kopria in Greek meaning refuse are left behind ready to be discarded. With this graphic image, Sirach compared what happens when a person begins to speak. Whereas there may have been a doubt as to the character of persons when they are silent, all doubts are dispelled when the inner aspect of persons is revealed in open oratory. Sound advice in any age, Sirach’s wisdom teaches us that ‘blessed is the person, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact’. A spoken word is so powerful that it can reveal the integrity or lack of it in any individual. It is critical to think before we speak because what comes out of one’s mouth reveals the heart.
Second reading: 1Corinthians 15:54-58
The power death wields over those who do not believe leaving deeper effects on society. Any one who wishes to engage in the struggle for justice and transformation will not succeed if he/she remains in psychological bondage to the powers of death. Only those who are neither pessimistic nor afraid are able to persist. When Paul called the Corinthians to affirm their faith in the power of Jesus over death, he challenged them to affirm as well their freedom from death, sin and law by exercising their freedom “fully engaged in the work of the Lord” 1Corinthians 15:58. Paul insists that Jesus’ resurrection determines how we think about our immortality. Whereas some in Corinth held that an ideal existence could be attained by divesting oneself of the body and all that it entailed, Paul spoke of transformation of the corruptible frame unto incorruptibility. It is this transformation into a “spiritual body” 1Corinthians 15:43 that maintains the continuity between the believer here and now and the believer in a future existence.
This transformation has been made possible for all only because of Jesus Christ. His death on the Cross and his rising has accomplished victory over death. The risen Lord is life caused by faith and love. Only Jesus Christ and his victory over death has broken this repetitive and vicious cycle, freeing those who believe, from sin and the law cf. Colossians 2:13. In the final verses of this difficult text, Paul challenges all who enjoy the victory of Jesus over death to manifest their sincere gratitude in steadfastness and perseverance cf. 1Corinthians 15:57-58. Only those who persevered in the way of Christ achieve steadfastness.
Gospel Luke 6:39-45
What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying! This pithy statement written time back was bandied about as people discussed the need for authenticity and integrity in relationships. Although it may have become common and hackneyed from overuse, the point remains relevant as the point made in today’s gospel. The conclusion of Luke’s version of the great sermon is comprised of three separate parables that were to function as object lessons for Jesus’ disciples. All three parables are concerned with the principles that should govern lives of disciples. Of course the sayings as they are here arranged and in their given larger context reflect the situation of the Christian community of their time, yet still relevant to us today.
Without the earthly Jesus to guide them and without the apostolic eyewitnesses, new Christians learned the gospel and the meaning of the Christian way of life from those who already lived it. With the light and presence of the Holy Spirit, Christians living together in community were responsible for one another as teachers, guides and as disciplinarians. Not only by their words were they to witness to one another, but also by their works and behavior. They had little choice bit to influence one another which made them to be self-critical and personally transformed before assuming the task of admonishing and transforming others. The grossly exaggerated image conjured up by the speck and plank metaphor is put purposefully to provoke humor. Imagine someone with a plank hanging out of his/her eye sympathetically attempting to remove a speck from another’s eye! ridiculous! Yet, the humor of the image should not blind us to the seriousness of the lesson whose point is an attempt to improve or correct others without a prior self-critique is absurd!
The term ‘hypocrite’ cf. Luke 6:42 was a name given for those who attempt to reform others without any self-involvement but now it has undergone quite evolution. Initially, the word meant one who answers. In classical Greek, hypocrite meant interpreter, expounder, orator and actors on a stage. From this latter application, it came to connote a pretender and dissembler. Today, as we know, hypocrite is a derogatory term for those whose actions are not consonant with their words including liars and deceivers. Unfortunately, sometimes even professed and confessing Christians earn this title for themselves proving the need to do self-examination before attempting on the task of fraternal correction. Truly, the disciple need not be completely without imperfections before the process can begin; yet there is need for clear motivation before entering into the process intended for the good of all who believe.
As baptized we are called upon to be both guides and teachers. 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 examples are insights that come from a faith-filled relationship. To teach the ways of Jesus, to lead others in his way, the disciple must first embody the lessons. Only then will the process of speck and plank removal be a true witness to Christian charity. The third parable unveils true discipleship. The logic of this text is simple. Good trees, like good people, produce good things; decayed trees and corrupt people give forth worthless and evil things. This section of the gospel comes full circle as it recalls the wisdom of Ben Sirach in today’s first reading; just as a person’s speech reveals his/her mettle, so too do a person’s deeds mirror the heart and mind prompting them.
We need to pray and think before we talk to any one because words define our hidden self. Indeed it is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Those who live and die in Christ have joy and hope in this life and the world to because they have defeated death. We are encouraged to perfect as our heavenly father, even when we find ourselves hypocrite and with planks in our eyes, lets do our best to change and bear good fruits.
Fr. Paulino Mondo