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 speech discloses the bent of a person's heart. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.(P) The word of the Lord.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night. (R)
The just one shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow. They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. (R)
They shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, declaring how just is the Lord, my rock, in whom there is no wrong. (R)
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.(P) The word of the Lord.
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 thornbushes, 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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Two weeks ago, we started to read the discourse which Jesus, at the start of His ministry, delivered specifically to His disciples on a plain at the foot of a mountain. By then, Jesus had announced the Good News about the Kingdom of God; had given insights on the scriptures in synagogues; and performed many wonders in some parts of the Galilee region.
A large crowd of people kept following Him wherever He went. A group of fishermen, namely Peter, John, and James and others, after a catch of a miraculous amount of fish and in response to the call of Jesus, left behind everything, including boats, nets, and livelihoods, they followed Jesus to become His disciples. And knowing that discipleship would be a lifelong process, and the path would not be easy, Jesus began His teaching to them with a pronouncement of "blessings" and "woes". They were intended to show His disciples the two ways of living and their consequences - one that leads to happiness and life, and the other that leads to misery and death.
In last week's gospel, we heard of Jesus's instruction on how the disciples should treat their enemies. He exhorted them to show love and kindness to enemies by blessing them, doing good to them and even praying for them. But Jesus knew the disciples' propensity to dodge His demands, to judge their enemies and to excuse themselves from not loving such persons. He knew how hard it would be for them to love those who hated them. So, He admonished them to focus on showing mercy, even towards those who wrong them, "to be merciful just as God the Father is merciful" that is, to forgive them unconditionally, Luke (6:27-38).
To further emphasize the same message, Jesus used three humorous imageries taken from everyday life which we read in today's gospel. With these pictures drawn from common life, Jesus wanted his disciples to refrain from ever setting up themselves as judges of others and instead to look to themselves first. In the first imagery, Jesus raised two rhetorical questions, "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?", Luke (6:39). Throughout His ministry, Jesus had asked many rhetorical questions, not expecting an answer, but to make the people think. Here, of course, the answer to the first question is "No" and to the second, "Yes" is the answer.
The central message of this teaching was that His disciples would not be able to lead and guide others unless they themselves believed in and faithfully put into practice all His teachings. Otherwise, it would be like a blind person guiding another blind person. However, Jesus reminded them that while they must have a clearer vision than the persons they would seek to lead, they would never rise above their Teacher, that is, Jesus Himself: for a disciple learns from his master and teacher but cannot rise above him. Then, when they were "fully trained", they would be more like their teacher in their thoughts, words and actions and, therefore, would be qualified to guide others in holiness and righteousness, Luke (6:40).
Jesus pressed his point further by using another imagery using two questions that cannot be so easily answered. He asked the disciples, "Why do you notice the splinter in your brothers' 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?", Luke (6:41-42).
Here, Jesus pointed out a human tendency inherent in all of us, the tendency to notice a "splinter" or "speck" or "dust" in someone else's eyes while ignoring a "wooden beam" or a "log" in one's own eye. It's very much like exaggerating the evil in others and overlook the evil in ourselves. It's easy to find fault with others, far too easy for most of us. But Jesus warned His disciples not to be the kind of disciples who were quick to point out the faults in others' lives but slow to recognize the sin in their own lives. In other words, He urged them to reform themselves first before reforming others; to be a good example first: only then could they help others; or else, they would be seen as "hypocrites", who are blinded by their own sins and only interested in exposing others' failures and weaknesses, Luke (6:42).
Jesus, then, used an agricultural imagery to illustrate the supernatural effect of living a holy life. The fig tree, the most common type of tree in Palestine, symbolizes fertility, peace, and prosperity. Moreover, grapes produce wine, which symbolizes joy. In contrast, thorns and brambles were only good for burning as fuel for fire. And the disciples were all well acquainted with this image. They knew figs came from a tree that naturally produced figs, they could not come from thorn bushes. Likewise, grapes came from a vine that naturally produced grapes, they could not come from brambles.
Besides, there is also a proverbial saying, "a tree is known by its fruits". This is to say that the quality of a tree is known by the quality of the fruits that it bears. A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, Luke (6:43-44). By saying that, Jesus warned His disciples that just as a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit, so also a good person produces good and an evil person evil. In other words, when and if the disciples choose to live a life grounded in Him, that is, Christ, the effect would be that good fruits would be produced in their lives. They would bring forth "good fruits", such as fortitude, kindness, gentleness, compassion, faith, hope and love and which would have the power to reform and purify the lives of others.
What is the message for us?
Today, all of us have become part of the community of disciples of Jesus, baptized into Jesus' way of life. As our Teacher, Jesus challenges us to examine whether we, as Christian parents, teachers, pastors, leaders, guides, spiritual heads and in whatever role, are first of all motivated and influenced by His teachings before guiding and teaching others. For, if we ourselves do not choose Jesus' way of life and are not convinced of it, showing His way to others will be like a blind person leading the way for other blind people and falling into a pit. Therefore, to lead others in the faith requires that we ourselves must do the basics well in the first place.
First, we shall truly pray, praying well and hard, let our lives be centred on prayer. Second, we shall learn our faith: let us read the scriptures, learn all that God has revealed through the Church, read the teachings of the saints, and learn from other holy people. Third, we shall live a good sacramental life: let us regularly go to Mass, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, understand the grace of our Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, etc. Remember that the Sacraments nourish, strengthen, and express our faith. Through the sacraments, Jesus gives us sufficient grace to help us lead a good life in this world and bring us into the Kingdom of God. Fourth, we shall stay on the path of becoming more and more like Jesus in character: let us live consistently in accordance with Christ's instructions and imitate His merciful and forgiving attitude.
However, we cannot be good disciples unless we have learned from our Teacher. We shall, therefore, submit ourselves to our head and master, our supreme prophet and teacher, our pattern and exemplar who wants to train us to be more like Him and be given the power to act like Him.
An incident from the life of Saint Moses the Black may be appropriate for an understanding of how we relate to other people's sins. Moses was one of the early orthodox monks in the period of desert Christian monasticism. Before he became a monk, as a young man, he was a slave to a government official in Egypt. He was dismissed for theft and suspected murder and, thereafter, became a leader of a gang of bandits that roamed the Nile valley with a reputation for terror and violence. On one occasion, when he sought to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a monastic colony in the desert. The dedication of their lives influenced him so deeply that he gave up his old way of life and became a monk himself.
There are several interesting facts about him. Once, one of the young monks committed a fault. A council met and Moses, who was quite old by then, was invited but refused to attend. Someone came to him to let him know that the others were waiting, at which prompting, Moses went to the meeting. He took a leaking jug filled with water and carried it on his shoulder. When he arrived, the others came out to meet him asking, "What is this?" Moses replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another". Hearing that, they said nothing more to the erring brother, but forgave him unconditionally.
We shall pray that we may become true followers of our Lord and Master and Teacher. We shall pray that He may lead and guide us along the path of personal integrity, so that our intentions may be pure and our judgements positive.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!
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