Words for Lent from the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
On my father’s side of the family there is a particular trait. My siblings and I always noted it in our aunts and uncle, but in our waning years we have been very conscious of it in ourselves. The charitable adjective would be ‘outspoken’.
For example, seven years ago my sister was in a care home suffering from a peculiar inoperable cancer. All of us drove to Edmonton in mid October to celebrate her birthday. During the opening of gifts and birthday cake celebrations she asked us in Obrigewitsch fashion, “are you all here because I am dying?” Kerpow!
Tough truth. But truth. The problem with ‘outspokenness’ is that it can also be misused and hurtful. When that happens occasionally among my siblings and me we simply recognize it as the ‘obrigewitsch’ trait. Speech. What comes out of us– can be good, can be bad.
The readings for the eight Sunday in Ordinary time served as a good transition to Lent. They point to the glorious call we have that is contained in the Gospel acclamation: “Shine like stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” We are to be like the risen Jesus.
But the readings also recognise the truth about our sinfulness. In the Gospel Jesus calls those who judge others “hypocrites”. Apparently, it is word he seldom uses in the scriptures. In Greek the word ‘hypocrite” means “an actor”, someone who plays a role and is not himself. He subsumes who he really is behind a mask.
So the actor does not look at his own faults, but has the temerity see what is in others and judges them. The actor cannot really lead others because he is blind to himself. The actor is like the bad tree. It cannot produce good fruit.
Hypocrites are easily recognized in their words. Because there is at the core an empty heart, the hypocrite’s words betray him, as do his actions. The hypocrite’s response to times of trouble and tribulation also betrays him.
The Book of Sirach’s images are vivid: when the sieve is shaken, the refuse appears. When the faulty clay is fired in the kiln, it will crack. The person’s speech and actions will reveal what is inside. A bad tree can only bear bad fruit.
But so too a good tree bears good fruit. Sometimes people forget that they are created ‘good’. The Book of Genesis affirms that truth. While good people can do bad things, they are really at the core, ‘good’. Jesus says that a good person produces good fruit from the treasure in his heart.
How do we build up treasure in our hearts? We recognize our sins and turn away from them. We put on the mind of Jesus. We cling to the divine life Jesus gave us at our baptism. We put our faith in Jesus’ promise of resurrection and strive to be sinless. As St Paul told the Corinthians, we remain “steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord” because we know that in the Lord our “labour is not in vain.”
And so now and during the approaching preparation for Easter, we strive to nurture the good in our hearts; we strive to “Shine like stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”
Homework : 1. Think of a time that I was a hypocrite, an ‘actor’, blind to myself and my sins/faults, and judged others. Ask forgiveness from God.
2. Think of a time that I spoke from a heart full of kindness to someone. Remember how it felt. Thank God for it.
3. Pray to always strive to have the mind and heart of Jesus remembering what comes out of my mouth tells me what is in my heart! Pray to always ‘speak’ Jesus.