An Unknown Poet once wrote:
“I dreamt death came the other night and heaven’s gate swung wide.
With kindly grace an angel came and ushered me inside.
And there, to my astonishment, stood folks I’d known on earth.
Some I had judged `most unfit’ and others of `little worth.’
Indignant words rose to my lips but never were set free.
For everyone showed stunned surprise: no one expected me.”
In our gospel today we heard three distinct elements to Christ’s teaching. The first about the blind leading the blind. The second about removing the splinter from your own eye. The third about the sound tree producing good fruit. Luke has brought these three teachings together because they are interrelated and because one seems to naturally follow the other.
“Why look at the speck in your brother’s eye when you miss the plank in your own?” The plank in our eye can mean many things – near sighted, blind sided, far sighted, or hind sighted. Our eyes look outwards from our bodies and we see very clearly what is all around us. We see the mistakes other people make and we are easily alert to their hypocrisies and inadequacies. We are all too well aware of just how easy it is for us to see the faults of others while remaining blind to our own inadequacies. It is not so easy to look inwards at ourselves. We are so immersed in our own lives that we find it difficult to observe our own deceptions and human faults. We fail to notice that we fall well short of the standards we expect from others.
Psychologist’s might state it in these terms: “we tend to transfer our irritation over our own failings to others.” So we decry another person’s faults as a way of hiding our own. The Lord was a psychologist in his own right when he said, “You must First deal with your own faults.” When we go through those negative days when everything other people do irritates us, we have to take a step back and consider what we are doing that upsets others, and, even more, what we are doing that upsets ourselves.
Have any of you ever been to an “anonymous” meeting? I mean alcoholic anonymous, gamblers anonymous, and etc. What is striking about any of these meetings is this shared admission of weakness. Each is encouraged to take the first step towards reform: admitting that he or she has a difficulty that they need help to control. Each is encouraged by the others to stay away from their addictions. Among the general public our specific weakness is less obvious than the sickness that grips a person suffering from some form of addiction. But we find it even harder to admit our weakness, even to ourselves. Rather we prefer to give the impression that we are just fine, and in no need of the compassion of others.
We can only help and teach others what we have learned and received from wise teachers and guides. And how can we help others overcome their faults if we are blinded by our own faults and misperceptions? We are all in need of a physician who can help us overcome the blind spots and failing of own sins, weaknesses, and ignorance. Jesus warns us not to judge others. He lays down the premise that since we all have faults, we have no right to judge the faults of others.
The Gospel of Luke was written by a disciple who was trained as a physician. Luke, with keen insight, portrays Jesus as the good physician and shepherd of souls who seeks out those who desire healing, pardon, and restoration of body, mind, and spirit. Jesus came to free us from the worst oppression possible – slavery to sin, fear, and condemnation. Like a gentle and skillful doctor, the Lord Jesus exposes the cancer of sin, evil, and oppression in our lives so we can be set free and restored to wholeness. A key step to healing and restoration requires that we first submit to the physician who can heal us. The Lord Jesus is our great Physician because he heals the whole person – soul and body, mind and heart – and restores us to abundant life both now and for the age to come.
The Lord Jesus wants to heal and restore us to wholeness, not only for our own sake alone. He also wants us to be his instruments of healing, pardon, and restoration for others as well. The Rabbis taught: “He who judges his neighbor favorably will be judged favorably by God.” How easy it is to misjudge others and how difficult it is to be impartial in giving good judgment. Our judgment of others is usually “off the mark” because we can’t see inside the other person, or we don’t have access to all the facts, or we are swayed by instinct and unreasoning reactions to people. It is easier to find fault in others than in oneself. A critical and judgmental spirit crushes rather than heals, oppresses rather than restores, repels rather than attracts. “Thinking the best of other people” is necessary if we wish to grow in love. And kindliness in judgment is nothing less that a sacred duty. In the words of Paul in the second reading today, “we keep working at the Lord’s work; knowing that, in the Lord, we can never labour in vain.”
Then we come to the sound tree producing good fruit. “A good tree does not produce decayed fruit any more than a decayed tree produces good fruit. Each tree is known by its fruit..” When a person does good things, we know this is a good person. When a person is continually stirring up trouble, we know that this person is troubled. The fruit reveals the person.
Our aim in life ought to be to become like that sound tree we heard of in today’s Gospel which produces good fruit. We want to live our lives as true disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to be ministers of his Word in the world. We want to serve the Lord in the best way we can. In order to do these things we need to look into our own lives, to see our own faults and aim to overcome them. We want to become robust human beings who serve the Lord with all our hearts and who make a real contribution to the world.
Jesus connects quality with good fruit. Something is of good quality when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living – living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).
We live in a society where people seek the virtuous thing to do, the logical thing to do, or the craziest thing to do, and are willing to get advice from or give advice to anyone. If someone recognizes something to be evil, they avoid it; that is Ethics 101. That is why evil often tries to masquerade as good, to appear glamorous. Our Lord teaches us not to judge people, but he does teach us to judge actions: evil people do evil things, just as good people do good things.
Secularism in our world today produces an easy religion which takes the backbone out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin. And if there is no God, then the labels of “good” and “evil” are merely opinions.
As Catholics, we believe in many things. One of those things that is most precious is that we believe in life – life from conception to natural death. I always thought we were a civil society, but how naïve of me. It was bad enough that Iceland pre-screened all pregnancies and if a woman was found to have a baby with an extra chromosome, that baby was aborted. Or Belgium where anybody from the age of six upwards can request to be euthanized. In the US we have States that allow euthanasia with a psychiatrists written consent and yet there are minimal records on file for those who have been given the fatal injection. States that still allow the death penalty. States that allow babies to die on a table after birth. It is no longer about killing the baby in the mother’s womb. It is now cold-blooded murder. How soon we forget our world history. And, as of Thursday, we have the State of Oregon that it is mandatory that abortion is now free. Everybody there is now responsible to pay for one’s sexual habits.
In the end it is important to remember:
No matter how much we know
No matter how much we have
No matter how much we pray
No matter how much we suffer
No matter how much we rejoice
No matter how much we trust
No matter how much we give
“When we meet God, He will ask us how much love we put into those things.”