A Reflection on the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 27, 2022
Reading I: Sirach 27:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Gospel: Luke 6:39-45
We are about to enter the season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday of this week as Ash Wednesday. Lent is a penitential season calling us to the conversion of our hearts, and Lent calls us to place ourselves before God to receive the grace we need to make that conversion. Conversion of hearts is the golden thread of our readings this week, binding our Old Testament reading from the Book of Sirach to our gospel from Luke.
The Book of Sirach is one of those seven Old Testament books not recognized in the Hebrew canon or in the Protestant tradition as it was written too late in the Hebrew tradition, probably around 200 B.C. We don’t know specifically who the author is other than he identifies himself as: “Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach” (50:27).
The Book of Sirach is made up of numerous maxims dealing with a variety of subjects, including the love of God’s law, the priesthood, the temple and divine worship. In the case of our first reading this week, it deals with revealing what is in a person’s heart through what that person says. Sirach uses agricultural examples of everyday life to make his point: When the chaff is removed the grain appears; the fruit of the tree shows how well the tree has been cared for; a piece of pottery is only as good as the manner in which it was fired, etc. In the same way, the actions and words of a person reveal his true character.
In our second reading from 1st Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that Christ has already conquered sin on our behalf. Christ has re-created us in the image and likeness of God. But Christ also knew that we would continue to sin even after his Passion. So how are we to maintain that image and likeness? To help us maintain that image, Christ left us the church and the sacraments of the church through which we have the ability to be absolved of sin and get a ”fresh start” to try again, and so that, upon our death, we may have the opportunity to re-enter the Garden of Eden, or Paradise, or Heaven, whichever title you care to ascribe to that eternal existence we long for.
In our gospel passage from Luke, Jesus uses a parable with agricultural examples to make the same point: A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. The rotten tree here is a warning against false prophets who can never bear good fruit, and our world today is full of false prophets who espouse hedonistic values claiming that pleasure or happiness is the sole aim of life. Every tree is known by its own fruit. The point is; a person’s true character is revealed in the things that person says and in the manner in which he acts. The last verse of our gospel sums this up beautifully: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces goodness, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil, for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
But there is more to our gospel this week than simply judging someone’s character by the things they say and do. We must be careful in how we judge their words and actions because we are also guilty of evil thoughts and actions. How can we point out someone else’s fault when we are also guilty? How can we remove the splinter from someone’s eye when we are blinded by our own sins? This passage is not a prohibition against finding fault with others; it is a prohibition against judging others from a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of our own faults. Verse 42 states: “Brother, let me remove the splinter in your eye…..Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” This clearly indicates that we are called upon to point out the faults of others, but not until we have examined ourselves and our motives. Motive is the important point here! Is our motive truly to correct a sinner and impel him to turn back to God, or is it to try to make ourselves feel superior to others by pointing out their faults? If this passage was a prohibition against finding fault with the sins of others, it would be contrary to what Jesus tells us concerning a brother who sins: If your brother sins address the sin between you and him alone; if he doesn’t listen to you take along a couple of others so that the sin may be established before witnesses; if he still refuses to listen, bring his sin before the entire church and if that doesn’t work, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector (Mt 18:15-17).
Jesus calls us to a higher standard. It is not easy for us to hear His words when he tells us to love our enemies or not to judge the actions and words of others until we have examined ourselves. It is only through the grace of God that any of us even aspire to those standards. The season of Lent calls us to place ourselves before God through prayer and the sacraments of the church to seek that grace that will impel us to those higher standards. Pray to God for the conversion of our hearts that we may come closer to those standards that Jesus calls us to.
Author: Ric Cross