8th Sunday of the Year, Cycle C–2019
FIRST READING Sirach 27:4-7
When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks. As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just. The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.
SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Brothers and sisters: When this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
GOSPEL Luke 6:39-45
Jesus told his disciples a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
We are given strong lessons about being vigilant that the words that usher forth from our mouths glorify God. Both the first reading and the Gospel are full of advice on how to understand people and how to know others. This is a strong part of spiritual living: knowing the right people to associate with so that we can deepen our spiritual journey. Our speech affects the lives of adults and children.
Speech and language skills are at the root of any child’s cognitive and social-emotional development. Each conversation you have, each opportunity to add new words to a child’s word bank or use words in different ways, is critical, not only for school adjustment and performance, but also for parent-child relationships and relationships with peers, friends, relations, teachers, and even the dog! And, isn’t our loving God the model for the ultimate parent to us all?
The first reading speaks about the value of our human speech. If we listen to another person, we will discover who that person really is. For example, at the beginning of the twentieth century many silent movie actors with foreign language accents found their fortunes changed when sound was introduced into movies. In the silent era few moviegoers knew that a certain cowboy idol actually spoke with a thick German accent! But, once the movies incorporated dialogue the popularity and, more importantly perception, of that cowboy idol changed.
Listening, first of all, requires intelligence and skill, not everyone does it well consistently. We can easily believe that everyone listens, but when we stop and think for a moment, we come to realize that this is not true. Yes, we may hear a voice. However, most of us find it difficult to listen deeply to another person, especially if it is a point of view we do not want to hear because of our inner fears, insecurities or the spoken words conflict with our fragile egos.
Instead of listening to the other person, we are most often interpreting the other person by our own way of thinking. Even when we understand the words of the other person, the words often do not mean what we would like them to mean. The lesson is that to really listen to another, we must subjugate our own way of thinking. Often we are threatened by giving up our own way of thinking because of a sense that we might lose ourselves. We may find that this perceived loss of ourselves may indeed reap fruitful gifts, for ourselves and others, as a consequence of having listened deeply.
And, speaking of losing ourselves, the wayward Corinthians were a bane to Paul. We hear Paul hearten his brothers and sisters to “be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” We know in the modern service economy world that much of our work goes into the spoken or written word. Therefore, we must guard against “evil thoughts” that serve as a source of sinful action that comes from the heart and defiles a person, in particular through our words.
Luke’s Gospel speaks directly to this reality. Good people produce good words and good deeds. Additionally, Luke adds another subtle perspective: do not judge another person. Christ again teaches the necessity of humility and true charity as an inspiration of our external acts. Our external acts must be an overflow of our love of God and neighbor. Maybe we should ask ourselves for time to time: through my speech do I produce good fruit? When? And, when might I be producing rotten fruit?
So the first reading tells us that in some sense we can judge another person by the way he speaks. And, the Gospel tells us not to judge. Can we reconcile these two passages? Definitely! The Scriptures are always speaking to us about spiritual growth. We can never judge another person because we do not know his or her heart: is he or she maturing to a greater spirituality? We can make judgments about actions and words, though. We are not called to be stupid (lacking critical faculties) to follow the Gospel, even though we may be called to be a fool–in the world’s eyes and ways–to follow the Gospel.
Today God invites us to look at others and to be able to recognize good words and good deeds and to distinguish them from bad words and bad deeds. Cassian in his Conferences refers to this ability discretion, the ability to discern what is of God and what is not. God also invites us not to condemn (but extend compassion to) the people who may do bad deeds or speak bad words.
Let us pray in the Eucharist today for mastery over those “small rudders”, our tongues, that will help us live our daily lives in a way that reflects the love, mercy and compassion of God; and, work to do good and speak well.