Readings: Sirach 27:4-7; 1 Cor. 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for each of us.” With just three days to Ash Wednesday, the readings challenge us to be transformed from being destroyer to builders of relationships; from driving people away from God to leading people to God by the words we use and our good example. The first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus uses four concrete examples to illustrate good or bad results from our words or actions. Just as the orchard is judged by the quality of its fruit, similarly a person’s words say more about his or her character. In these days of rush judgement on the media still fresh on our minds, the readings lead us head on to meet the challenge. Let me illustrate the point with a story.
A man was flying back home with his three children and on the flight, the children were so unruly that one passenger on the other side of the isle told his own children, “never behave like those children.” When the father of the children heard this he calmly said, “Sir, my children are normally well behaved. It has been very difficult three days for them. We have just buried their mother.” These words totally transformed the man who had rush judged the three children. I tell this story because both the first reading and the Gospel caution about hypocrisy, rush judgement and negativity.
In the Gospel Jesus uses four short parables to illustrate the authentic spirituality of his disciples by words and deeds in their witness as his followers. Jesus is very harsh on hypocrisy because it is fake and counter witness. He underlines the importance of authentic leadership which stands in sharp contrast to blind leadership. In the example of the blind guide, Jesus teaches us that a blind guide would easily lead followers to spiritual disaster and ruin. The message is clear. "A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” The two images of a blind guide and a rotten tree are related. Both images challenge us to be transformed so that our words may match the integrity and character in our lives. Hypocrisy will soon or later be revealed. “What goes round comes around.” A good tree cannot produce bad fruit; and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Judging others and gossip often tells more about ourselves than the people we are condemning or talking about. Jesus calls hypocrites, those who notice a tiny splinter in the eyes of others, but are blind to the beam in their own eye. They are unaware of their shortcomings while they decry the faults of others. These people are often negative and hostile: focusing on the bad side of other people and criticizing and finding faults even while the priest or deacon is preaching! Jesus teaches that faultfinding in others is a sign of hypocrisy and feeds self-righteousness.
The message we take home may be summed up in two points and a prayer. 1) This coming week as we approach the Season of Lent let us open our hearts to be transformed into more authentic witnesses by word and deed. 2) The readings challenge us to bear good fruit by leading others to God especially those alienated from Church by gossip or judgmental attitudes. Lord, give us your Spirit, so that our witness may bear the good fruit of reconciliation, tenderness and mercy. Amen.
©2019 John S. Mbinda