Father Donald Senior, CP

March 3: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A word to the wise

Sir 27:4-7; Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45


The so-called “wisdom” literature of the Bible is represented in books such as Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiastes (also known as Qohelet), some of the Psalms and in Sirach, the book from which our first reading is taken this Sunday.

These books detect God’s own truth in the time-honored, proverbial wisdom drawn from human experience. As beings created in God’s own divine image, the thoughtful perceptions of good people also reflect divine wisdom. 

So, in the reading from Sirach for today we hear how the manner of our speech reveals our character — a concern found throughout the Bible. Sirach uses a couple of downhome metaphors to make its point. 

When you put grain in a sieve and shake it, eventually the husks are left. So, too, someone who keeps on talking will eventually reveal their faults and prejudices. In another metaphor, the quality of a tree’s fruit is an indicator of the care that it has received. So, too, our speech reveals the quality of our own viewpoints.

Jesus also stands in this kind of tradition and much of his teaching has a pithy, proverbial character. He makes his points made with vivid metaphors.

This Sunday’s Gospel selection is a prime example. Jesus uses three brief illustrations to instruct his disciples. The first is a fundamental teaching about discipleship, touching the relationship of Jesus with his own followers. 

A blind person will have difficulty guiding another blind person — both might fall into a pit. So the disciples need Jesus to lead them to the truth: “No disciple is superior to the teacher.” When the disciple is fully trained then he or she will be like the master and be able to see.

The second vivid example touches another recurring teaching of Jesus. How can one notice a “splinter” in the eye of a brother or sister and fail to notice “the wooden beam” in one’s own eye? Better to remove the beam from your own eye before you try to clear the splinter from someone else’s eye. 

The exaggeration of Jesus’ image drives home his teaching about not judging others (“Judge not and you will not be judged.”). We are called to respect and love each other, to deal with one another with care and support. 

More than once, Jesus spears the hypocrisy of those who condemn the failings of others but fail to notice their own sinfulness. I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable, which is also found in Luke, about the arrogance of the Pharisee in the temple who reminds God of his virtues while having contempt for the poor man who stands in the back, beating his breast and asking God’s mercy.

Pope Francis stirred controversy — and condemnation from some — when on an inflight press conference he refused to condemn gay people (“Who am I to judge?”). In his own words, the pope later explained, “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person? I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

No doubt the pope was familiar with the words of Jesus we hear today.

A final set of proverbs closes out Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel: “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit. … For every tree is known by its own fruit. … A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.” These sayings, too, express a central theme of Jesus’ wise teaching, namely right action and authentic virtue spring from deep within our being.

We are called to be people of integrity. Our actions express the commitments of our heart and are never to be a mask to hide our real intentions. “From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

At a time when there seems to be a torrent of ugly words in our public discourse and when condemnations and accusations fill the airwaves, the biblical call for considerate speech and mutual respect hits home.


Sir 27:4-7; Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45



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