The Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C—March 2, 2019

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Today, Jesus asks His disciples a seemingly nonsensical question:  Can the blind guide the blind?  What’s His point?

By Gayle Somers

Gospel (Read Lk 6:39-45)

We continue today in the portion of St. Luke’s Gospel that reports on Jesus’ teaching early in His public ministry.  These chapters are sometimes called the “Sermon on the Plain.”  They repeat much of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.

After giving His disciples a stern warning against judging others (see 6:37-38), “Jesus told His disciples a parable, ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person?’”  The answer to this is so obvious that we know something important has provoked it.  He follows it with another question that is not so easily answered: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”  The contrast between a splinter and a wooden beam is enormous.  If we can spot what is so small in our brother without seeing what is so big in us, is there not something dramatically wrong with our eyesight?  Or, perhaps it isn’t our eyesight that is faulty; perhaps our eyes are focused on the wrong object.

With these questions, Jesus helps us understand how easily and quickly we find fault with others—we can pick out their sins, their failings and shortcomings, their lapses and blindness in the twinkling of an eye (pun intended).  If our eyesight is so good at ferreting out these things, why is it that we fail to see them in ourselves?  The only answer to that must be that we aren’t looking very hard for them.  Why?

It is remarkably easy for us to stay focused on others, because that costs us nothing.  We can make our snap judgments, do our gossiping, look down our noses, post articles and our own bloviating on social media, read every juicy, scandalous headline without ever becoming uncomfortable.  We don’t have to make changes in ourselves, come face-to-face with ourselves, or feel our own lack of true righteousness.  What does that make us?  Jesus minces no words: “You hypocrite!”

What is the remedy?  “Remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”  Here He calls us to radical self-examination.  It really isn’t our job to do inventories on the faults of others, is it?  Who appointed us to do that?  How do we react when others do that to us?  Does that have a happy outcome?

Note that Jesus assumes we all have wooden beams in our own eyes.  What turns us into hypocrites is our refusal to acknowledge that or do the work required to remove them.  Note, too, that He doesn’t say we have splinters in our eyes, as our brothers do.  We have beams.  Apparently, we aren’t as righteous as we thought we were.

Our first step out of this problem is to examine our hearts.  It’s no wonder the Church gives us this Gospel on the last Sunday before Lent begins.  Clearly, we all need this time of reflection and reform.  Jesus tells us we need good hearts: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.”  Our work is to pay attention to all that Jesus teaches us about good hearts—Scripture and the tradition of the Church are well-equipped, divinely inspired, to do this very thing for us.  Then, we honestly open our hearts to being corrected, cleaned, and re-ordered by the Holy Spirit.  Surely this will keep us busy for a long time to come.  When we give ourselves to it, will we have the time or energy to notice the splinters in our brothers’ eyes?  When we perceive the dead-weight of our own pride, self-love, lukewarmness, or distractions, will the failings of others seem small by comparison?  Jesus suggests they should.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, please remind me that when I see a failing in my brother, my first response should be to look for it in me (since my eyesight is so finely attuned to find it) and confess my own need of forgiveness and cleansing.

First Reading (Read Sir 27:4-7)

In this wisdom literature from the Old Testament, the author gives us pithy instruction to help us guard our hearts and the action they produce: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so, too, does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”  This is the very truth Jesus addresses in the Gospel.  If, from our lips, words of judgment, criticism, cynicism, skepticism, and fault-finding constantly flow, what does that tell us about “the bent of our mind”?  Is it “bent” in the wrong direction?  Our words reveal what is in our hearts.  That is why the author warns us: “Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”  If we are constantly nattering away about the faults of others—politicians, church leaders, neighbors, co-workers, family members—have we become husks in the sieve?  Do our hearts need some tending this Lent?

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, thank You for this wisdom from Your holy Scripture.  Help me take it seriously enough to live it.

Psalm (Read Ps 92:2-3, 13-16)

The psalmist lovingly describes the good fruit that a good heart will produce in the lives of the just—those who willingly give God what is His due (love, worship, obedience) and neighbors their due (the same love with which we love ourselves).  The first signs of a well-cared-for heart is that it proclaims God’s kindness “at dawn” and His faithfulness “throughout the night.”  In other words, the just live all the days of their lives—from morning until night—in the presence of the Lord.

Those who are “planted in the house of the Lord”—that is, those who worship Him in the way He has given us, who obey the commandments He has revealed to us, who identify themselves as His people with all their minds and strength—“shall flourish in the courts of our God.”  Theirs is a bright eternity, dwelling in His presence.  

The just “bear fruit even in old age … declaring how just the Lord is … in Whom there is no wrong.”  There is nothing more beautiful in this life than to know those of God’s people who have grown old and perhaps infirmed in their bodies, yet who constantly speak only of the Lord’s goodness, faithfulness, and kindness to them.  They are living witnesses to the truth of this psalm and its promises.  They teach us that our antiphon today, kept in our hearts and put into action, will produce good fruit in us, too: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to You.”

The psalm is, itself, a response to the other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 15:54-58)

St. Paul, as always, now gives us practical instruction on how to work on our own souls so that they grow into good trees, producing good fruit.

First, he reminds us that our true enemy in life in our own sin, not the sin of others.  That must be why the only time Jesus advocated violence was when He said, “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.  If your hand offends you, cut it off.”  Never did he instruct us to take up the sword against other sinners.

Jesus has dealt sin its death blow; He has stripped it of its power over us.  So, what is left to us?  “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.”  If we receive St. Paul’s instruction in humility and with seriousness, we will have no time to be busying ourselves with finding the splinters in our brothers’ eyes.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, please help me today to be devoted to Your work in me.  I know that will help me stay out of trouble.

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