Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
8th Sunday of OT, Year C
February 25, 2001
Sir 24:4-7; Ps 92:2-3,13-16;1Cor15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45
1) For the third straight week, we have a chance to listen to the greatest homily ever given: the one Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. We can imagine like any preacher, Jesus would have given the same or similar message on many occasions and he gave this homily both on a mountain as St. Matthew records — the famous Sermon on the Mount — and on a plain, as St. Luke told us three weeks ago. The message is the same and encapsulates Jesus whole revolutionary Good News about who he is and what he calls us to. He started a couple of weeks ago with the Beatitudes, saying that the people who are truly blessed, both in this world and in the next, are those who put God and his Kingdom first in their lives. Last week we heard him preach that, like He always did, we are called to love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors, to do good to those who persecute us, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile out of love for even someone who doesn’t love us.
2) Today Jesus continues that incredible homily for us, in which he continues to speak to us just as much as he spoke to his listeners on the plain 1970 years ago. And he’s as relevant now as he ever was, as if we were touching on just what plagues so many people today. Therefore, in my homily today, I just hope to accent what the Good teacher himself taught us, so that we might today put what he calls us to into action.
3) Jesus has three central teachings in today’s Gospel which he makes by means of three simple unforgettable images: the first is about Blind Guides; the second about the speck and the plank; the third is about trees bearing fruit. All three go together. We’ll discuss each one in turn in the hope that we might see both their relevance and their connections.
4) Jesus asked them, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” We need a guide when we don’t know how to get to where we’d like to end up, and when we recognize that we don’t understand the meaning of things we encounter along the way. A good guide knows how to get to the destination and knows how to explain what we see along the journey.
5) Have you ever asked anyone for directions, received them and then followed them only to end up lost? I have. It’s one of the most annoying things, that someone who doesn’t know how to guide you to a particular location isn’t humble enough to admit it and therefore gets you even more lost. There are others who know how to get to the destination, but who don’t know how to give good directions — we may end up in the right place after all, but only after much more work than it would have taken us had people told us the clear short cuts, etc.
6) It’s the same way in the spiritual life. To be a guide, we have to know the destination and we have to know how to get there. And in reality, there is only one guide, Jesus, who is the Way to Eternal Life with the Father. He pointed the way, he opened the gates of heaven, he created the Church as the only barque, the only boat, that he’s steering toward that distant shore. Jesus is the guide. The Church is his pilgrimage company, to guide us on our pilgrim way. He says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” The Pope, the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, when they remain faithful to what they have heard and received from the Master, Jesus, are the true guides to heaven, and they are the ones who administer the sacraments to keep us on the right track during the pilgrimage each of us is making to the next life.
7) The funny thing is, so few people today, even many Catholics, look to Jesus as their Guide. Instead they find their guides in Howard Stern, or Dr. Ruth, or Jerry Springer, or Jesse Jackson, or David Duke, or Eminem, or Saddam Hussein, or Madonna, or in some latest star whom they make a false prophet, someone they listen to in order to discover that the meaning of life is something other than what Jesus told us it was. If they’re not leading us to Jesus, they are blind guide, who serve gods of sex, money, power, their own egos, but who don’t serve God and won’t lead us to Him and to the eternal life he died to give us. And so this weekend, we first have to ask ourselves, who are the guides we really follow? Do we follow Christ, no matter how hard it is to follow him, even when he’s leading us through the dark to some distant place, when we don’t understand a particular teaching, but follow him and that teaching anyway? He’s the only guide who has gotten to the destination we want to end up; he has established his Church and commissioned bishops, priests and deacons to preach in his name and to be roadsigns pointing to him. Do we follow them faithfully as he calls us to?
8 ) The second part of today’s excerpt from the greatest homily ever given concerns not the guide’s vision of the goal, but our vision. Jesus says to us, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
9) We live in a very critical age. Everybody criticizes everybody else, notices everybody else’s flaws, but seldom really recognize their own. As an overreaction to this, some people, presuming to try to speak for Jesus, say: “Don’t criticize anyone else. We’re no better than anyone else. Just live and let live. We’ve all got our problems. Don’t be judgmental of anybody else or their actions.” What does Jesus really have to say?
10) Jesus does not say “Don’t criticize anyone else who does something wrong.” That would be inconsistent with loving someone else. If someone were a terrible alcoholic and could no longer control his drinking, we wouldn’t love that person or be his friend if we didn’t try to tell him to do something about his drinking. Jesus says that first, however, we need to take out the plank out of our own eye before we try to take out the speck in anothers. He who created us knows us so very well. He knows that most of the time, the reason why we start criticizing others, the reason why we start noticing all of their flaws, is because we don’t have the guts to look in the mirror to see our own. The reason we criticize others is so that we can make ourselves look good in comparison with their flaws. In the seminary we used to have a saying that when someone came to you and started to complain about someone else or some decision that was made, always ask the question, “so what’s wrong inside of you?”, because more often than not, the person’s critical attitude derived from the fact that the person was not at peace with himself. I recognize this in myself. When I start to become overly critical, the first thing I try to do is to examine my own conscience to see whether everything is right at home. This is what Jesus calls us to. He says first examine yourself, straighten out your problems with me, with yourself and with others first, and then go constructively criticize others, because then you’ll see clearly. He wants us to help them take the speck out of their eye, but only after we can see clearly, see with his eyes, his pure sinless vision. If we’re ever going to presume to guide anyone toward better behavior, we first have to make sure our eyes are free of any planks that might keep us from seeing and following Christ himself.
11) In the third and last part of today’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus uses the image of bearing fruit. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; or each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” Jesus speaks very common-sensically here. To see who the person is, you observe how he acts. Someone can say that he has great faith, but you see if he or she really has great faith by observing their deeds of love. Sometimes a person might not think she has great faith, but if they’re constantly producing deeds of love, she is united to Jesus. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” We have to be with him to bear good fruit and apart from him we can bear any good fruit.
12) We often time see the fruit when the tree is shaken, as we see in the first reading. “When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears; so do a person’s faults when he speaks.” The tree is shaken when a person speaks, when the person puts the thoughts of his heart and mind into action in either word or deed. Can a person deceive others, and supposedly bear good fruit when the tree is rotting, yes, but only for a time. We saw this reality during the past few days in the case of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent arrested for being a spy for the Russians. He is the father of a family of six, the eldest daughter of which used to work for me in Washington DC when I worked for politics. His wife is the sister of a priest friend of mine. All the kids went to very good Catholic schools in the DC area. The agent himself was a member of a group of lay spirituality that had several practices of faith everyday, did a retreat and a theological course every Summer during vacation, went to Mass each day, and so on. But at the same time, he was lying on the oath to our nation, lying on the oath to his wife and kids, lying ultimately to God. While on the outside he seemed to be bearing great fruit, both professionally and personally, he was in reality a bad tree. That was discovered earlier this week, which might have been a great blessing to him. Better for him to discover this now than to discover it on the day of his death when he sees Jesus face to face. The lesson for us today, Jesus’ lesson, is to focus on the TREE not on the fruit! Sometimes when our tree is fine, we seem to produce such little fruit, or make mistakes or can’t seem to do anything well. But one day our tree will start to produce in a similar way to a mother I know who tried to have children for years. She waited five long years and never thought she’d conceive. But then, after much prayer, she conceived her first child and now she has five children. Other times we seem to be bearing good fruit — and everybody thinks good of us — despite the fact that we know we really need to correct our relationship with God by means of the sacrament of Confession and living our Christian life more fully. This weekend is a time for us to do just that.
13) All three of these images go together. Jesus calls all of us first to look at Him, and the Church he founded, as our guide so that we can know that we’re on the way to Him, then to look within and remove any planks in our sight that can prevent us from seeing him. He calls us always to be attached to him, who is the Vine. Then attached to him, having removed sin from our eyes, he calls us to be guides for others, pointing to Him, and bearing fruit in acts of love, helping them by our patient and loving example to remove the specks from their eyes so that they can see Jesus. We do that, par excellence at Mass, when we confess the planks in our eyes, ask him to remove them, give the sign of peace to others, behold the Lamb of God and receive His flesh and blood from that Vine so that we, attached to him, might bear that fruit in acts of love to which he calls us.