From Deacon David
h SUNDAY (C) MARCH 3, 2019
Sirach 27: 4-7 I Corinthians 15: 54-58 Luke 6: 39-45
Mark Twain was at a dinner party whose guests included a businessman notorious for having made his money by sharp dealing and by unscrupulously and aggressively squeezing money out of his beleaguered tenants and clients. At one point in the evening, the fellow cornered Twain and piously gushed: “Before I die, Mr. Twain, I intend to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I want to climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud.”
“I have a better idea,” suggested Twain acidly. “Why don’t you stay right here in Boston and keep them?”
Twain, a keen observer of human nature, knew quite a bit about religion, but it does not take a theologian to figure out that this fellow was routinely breaking several of the commandments by being covetous, dishonest, and brutally aggressive. His worst transgression, however, was probably the idol worship of making money his “god.” It was rather easy for Twain to puncture the hypocrisy of this blowhard businessman’s piety, but there is an even more subtle duplicity at work in the case of religious leaders. Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for them.
In today’s gospel passage Jesus is coming to the end of what, in Luke, is called the “Sermon on the Plain” (parallel to Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount”). He has instructed his disciples to love their enemies… turn the other cheek… treat others as they would want to be treated… not judge them… etc. Now he gives three brief and challenging parables. As in the reading we heard from Sirach, Jesus is the wise person teaching his disciples a practical wisdom for their lives as disciples.
The first parable (vv 39-42) Jesus directs the message not to the Pharisees but to his own disciples, He calls the disciples to examine themselves.
In Matthew these words are addressed to “scribes and Pharisees”: (Matthew 15:14) but Luke does not addresses the false teachers, rather he addresses the disciples, as well as you and me; who are blind until they have their eyes opened by Jesus’ teaching. There isn’t much sense for leaders trying to guide others, until and unless, the leaders have been there themselves. Once they have learned to apply the teaching, they will be able to teach others.
We have responsibilities to teach and guide others. But before we can do that, we must address our own faulty sight… the “log” in our own eye. In other words, we must be self-critical. If we are… then we can guide others on Christ’s path… Attempting to help another remove the speck from their eye might just be a way of avoiding an honest look at our own shortcomings.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “People are very inclined to set moral standards for others.” The implication is, that we may not use the same criteria to regulate our own lives.
As Christians and witnesses of our faith, we train our children in the faith; volunteer to teach religious education; are mentors for baptismal candidates and sponsors for those in our parish’s RCIA program. But, do we live the life we profess?
Our children and students are often the best judges of how we teach and how we live, they are good at discerning our integrity versus phoniness. They’re not impressed by false fronts of even their parents or teachers. We can’t fake integrity or hide it, so we need to try deliberately to develop it
Jesus’ second parable proposes that good fruit comes from a good tree. Using the analogy that good trees produce good fruit, Jesus points out that so it is with people. This should be understood as the driving force behind all discipleship. Character produces action.
Jesus’ meaning is that internal dispositions reveal themselves in external actions –something like today’s cliché to the effect that “if you give them enough rope they’ll hang themselves.” Someone once said to a teacher, “I can’t hear what you say for listening to what you are.” People show their true condition best when they’re being themselves. If a person’s speech is profane or crude, we have a right to conclude that there’s something wrong with the person inside. He’s insecure, or weak, or ignorant, or doesn’t like himself very much.
Haven’t we known people who, by how they treat others and respond to difficult situations, set an example for us and challenge us to imitate their Christian response to daily life? As we stand here today we might recall and give thanks for those, who from our past and present, have shown us how to live Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” They are proof that quite ordinary people can put into practice the life Jesus proposed to his disciples. Their witness of Christian living also shows us what Jesus makes possible for us through the gifts of his Holy Spirit.
In his last brief parable Jesus says, in summary, a person’s words and actions will reveal their character. No one can be an authentic follower of Jesus and live like a hypocrite. A person of good heart will do good; an evil person will do evil because, “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” We Christians are in a lifelong process of renewing and orienting our heart. We were reminded of that at the beginning of Mass by asking for mercy. Jesus has modeled for us the life he calls us to imitate. But on our own, we cannot live what he has set before us in his sermon on the plain. That’s why, after receiving mercy at the beginning of the Mass, we are enabled to live the Christian life, by the life-giving-Word we heard… and the food we receive from the table… the very presence of the one who both teaches and enables us to live his life in the world.
Discipleship is following in the footsteps of the teacher, realizing that imitating him is equal to imitating God. It requires mutual admonition, correction, and encouragement. All of this is a profile for living in the kingdom of God.
Let me close with this anonymous poem ‘The Man in the Glass”
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself,
And see what THAT one has to say.
For it isn’t your father or mother or spouse
Who judgment upon you much pass;
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
That’s the person to please, never mind all the rest
For he’s with you clear up to the end.
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the one in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears, if you’ve cheated the one in the glass.