Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
We can detect a practical message in today’s biblical readings. The message is that sincere religion ought to manifest itself externally, in our actions and words; on the other hand, lack of internal commitment can be perceived by the way one acts or speaks. A man’s way of speaking, the first reading cautions us, betrays his mind. Conversation indicates the quality of a person and his whole outlook. We are advised not to judge people until we hear them. In fact, the only way we come to know anything or anyone is by observing their words an deeds.
In the biblical sense, the word is not only a means of communication with others: it shows how is the person himself. It is often the equivalent of an action. The word so really represents human nature, that the term word has been chosen by God to indicate the most perfect description of himself. The Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is the Word of God.
In the Sermon on the Plain, St. Luke offers not only norms (last two weeks), but also a series of parables that in other Gospels are found in different contexts. In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns against becoming self-righteous; that is, attempting to surpass others while ignoring one’s own obvious shortcomings. Through a figure of speech -the plank in the eye- Jesus had in mind an attitude of superiority complex, a holier-than-you outlook. The person with the plank in the eye is the one who thinks he is better than everyone else. He is his own greatest admirer. As would a plank in the eye, pride brings about blindness. This spiritually blind person fails to see his own sins or the virtues of others.
The proverbial saying about the speck and the plank in the eye, is a colorful way of saying that moral improvement begins at home. Only after one’s own house is in order, could one venture to correct others. Correction of others implies previous self-correction. The opposite is hypocrisy. And hypocrisy, incidentally, is the only sin that directly drew Jesus’ wrath. We should just put a guard on our inner dispositions, lest we become merely pretencious. Being a Christian is, after all, a matter of the heart; we must act what we are. Both the Book of Sirach and the Gospel remind us that we should perform in accordance with our beliefs, on the premise that our external behavior can speak as loudly as words. Our conduct must be accompanied by small details - the way we genuflect, the way we pray, the way we talk of our faith!
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus turns our attention to the image of a tree. He reminds us that good fruit comes only from a good tree. The results speak for themselves. Thus, there is a correspondence between a person’s condition and his actions. For a good person, whose “heart” is bent on concern for God and his fellow men, goodness will just flow. On the other hand, from an evil person, whose “heart” is bent on the pursuit of his own self, only evil will result. The heart is ultimately the determining factor. Our acts flow from our inner being. G.M. Hopkins put it: The just man justices. Clearly then, our actions reveal who and what we are. It is impossible to separate the actions a person does from the person who carries them out. It is gratifying to be called a Catholic, but living up to that name is something else. It is pleasant to be known as a regular churchgoer, but living out Sunday liturgy in daily life is another matter.
St. Paul was a realist. He knew that Christian life demanded ongoing effort. It was perseverance in the faith that he preached to the Corinthian community (2nd reading). To be a Christian means to live as a Christian. They were, then, called upon to show that Christians were to be known by their fruits and not simply by their name.