Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, March 3, 2019.)

The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy picks up from last Sunday’s reading. Jesus, after telling his disciples to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, to lend without expecting repayment, now tells them to stop judging others. Mercy should take the place of judgment — “forgive and you will be forgiven.” Jesus continues this teaching by challenging the disciples to look inward at their own lives.

He says: “Can a blind person guide a blind person?” and then gives the answer in his second question: “Will not both fall into a pit?” The blindness needs to be removed before another can be guided or led. This entails knowing one’s self and one’s own weaknesses or deficiencies as well as one’s strengths.

Jesus brings this out even more clearly in the next question: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” The challenge lies in an honest and good appraisal of one’s heart. Our inner thoughts, dispositions, attitudes, values and conceptions need to be evaluated. When one of these is not directed toward the God and the good it needs to be removed. It is like a blinder which prohibits the person from seeing others and the world as it really is.

Jesus uses the image of a fruit-bearing tree to emphasize this point. Good fruit comes from a good tree. If the tree is well, the fruit it bears will be good. If the tree is damaged or rotting from the inside, it will not be able to bear good fruit. Jesus then says: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of the store of evil produces evil …” Jesus now gives the practical application of this truth, concluding: “… for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, the fruit one bears comes forth in one’s actions, which in this case is speech.

In the age of instant communication, Jesus might have said “from the fullness of the heart the hand writes.” Through text messages, social media posts, Twitter feeds, emails and so forth our communications are vast and varied. All of these, added to the regular conversations we have with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues every day, provide a wide berth for applying Jesus’ teaching. The ready availability of cell phones and computers now makes communication instantaneous in nature. The old adage “think before you speak” might today be rendered as “think before you write.”

The proverb is a good first step in directing our speech to the good. However, we must keep the context of Jesus’ teaching in mind. He is asking us not to judge others. If speaking or writing of situations that are truly unjust or damaging, we must do so from the inner desire to bring about good. The way in which we speak or write gives insight into our inner selves. Sirach writes: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”

Jesus goes further than asking us to regulate our speech or writing. He wants us to look into our hearts, our inner self, and find areas of growth. Allowing him and his word to penetrate our hearts will provide light for the course. Recognizing our own weaknesses, limitations, biases and sins will help us be patient with others, while helping us to grow into the persons God has made us to be. Along the journey we come to the realization, ever new, that God has been merciful to us; it is this same mercy that He wants us to share with others.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.