Luke’s gospel (LK 6:39-42) reminded me this morning of a saying on a coffee mug that I’ve also seen on a T-shirt. It says, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Luke is a bit more direct and is asking a question so I would expect a more forceful delivery. I can hear him challenging us, wanting to know: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”
There’s a lot to ponder in the lectionary readings for today: (Luke 6: 27-38). It’s all about love but because Jesus was speaking to his disciples rather than a large crowd the message was not flowery or sweet. It cut to the heart of how to live a good and meaningful life in the way that God would have us act. Spend some time with it if you will. I’ll just offer a taste to get you started, three thoughts that take some real honesty to get to the heart of things.
- Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…
- If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
- Stop judging and you will not be judged…Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Read the statements aloud. (How does it feel on the first read?) It will take some doing to go deeper than just recognizing the words. No squirming! Just stay with it until you’re ready to make a decision and a plan of how you can take a step toward this transformation in practice. (And then keep walking that path…)
We know very little about most of the men that we call apostles, the ones closest to Jesus during his “public life.” (Today’s saint is even less well-known because he is sometimes called Bartholomew and sometimes Nathaniel!) There are two things in the gospel for today (JN 1:45-51) that caught my attention. The first was right at the beginning where Philip sought out Nathaniel to take him to meet Jesus. Today’s passage begins with Philip saying: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law.” My question was about who the “we” is/are and what is the evidence they had. When Philip gave him the slightest background (“Joseph’s son, from Nazareth”), Nathaniel was obviously not interested, asking “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip didn’t give up, however. He invited Nathaniel to “Come and see.” By his persistence we can intuit prior encounters of others.
I presume Nathaniel was surprised when Jesus saw him coming and said, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him” Then addressing Nathaniel directly, he said, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” And that was enough for Nathaniel to believe that Jesus was the one they would know as “Son of God.”
Admittedly, the gospels are rather sketchy, not giving us full descriptions of events and conversations. My “takeaways” from the above encounter are the following:
#1: How quick we are to judge people by where they come from and what is the status of their family, and #2: How important it is to trust other people while also judging for ourselves by checking out what they have told us.
This morning’s gospel puts me in mind of a couple of idioms like “where the rubber meets the road’ and “when push comes to shove.” I had already washed out my eyes because of feeling (in the left one) as if there was something like a splinter keeping me from seeing clearly. (It worked!) All this after a cursory look at news headlines, many of which circle around one of two things: the coronavirus spread and the political situation in our country. So how does all this come together in my consciousness this morning?
Here’s the text I’m working with: Jesus said to his disciples: “Stop judging that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye…?
Familiar? Of course, but do we really take Jesus at his word? He gets rather forceful a moment later. You hypocrite! he says, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
I’m generally willing to pay attention to that directive. I know there are circumstances in people’s lives that seem to make them destined to act in ways contrary to my ethics. Lately, however, it all seems (to me) so patently clear that my opinions are the right ones. How is it possible to allow all points of view? Is there ever a time when I can admit that I am wrong?
I think that is definitely possible. The more difficult question is whether or not I can admit the “rightness” of my adversary. What that calls me to is research. A cavalier statement about someone else’s view without evidence to back it up is unfair at least and libelist at worst. Sometimes the best we can do is to do our research and when called on, offer it to those who will listen—with sources, of course—and pray for peace and enlightenment without rancor. Agreeing to disagree is a hallmark of mature relationship. It does not necessarily mean capitulation. And when the common good is at stake, it is our duty to speak the truth as we see it and trust that the Spirit of truth is our guide.
May we desire clear sight and work toward it each day in humility and courage so that our world will be a better place because of our presence here.
There are some days when I find little to comment on from the lectionary readings as I open the US Catholic Bishops’ website. Sometimes, however, there is too much because all the readings are candidates for “Scripture of the Year.” Today is one of those days. The readings are self explanatory but the content calls for reflection with every new line so I choose this morning to offer a smorgasbord of loving advice that just gives a taste of what can be found in the storehouse of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…as the Lord has forgiven you. And over all these virtues put on love…(COL 3)
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (PS 150)
If we love one another, God remains in us and God’s love is brought to perfection in us. Alleluia! (1 JN 4)
To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Stop judging and you will not be judged…Forgive and you will be forgiven…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (LK 6)
This morning, another entry from Meg Wheatley – from a different book of hers:
Whenever we get past the categories and stereotypes, when we greet each other as interesting individuals, we are always surprised by who we are. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of stereotyping someone because of their appearance, and then being surprised when they didn’t fit that judgment. This has happened to me so often you’d think I wouldn’t keep labeling people – a laborer in ill-fitting clothes who talked to me about his love of Shakespeare, a youth with brightly dyed blue hair and body piercings who described his work teaching non-violence to young children, a factory worker who shared her poetry, a desperately poor village woman who invited me in to her immaculate one-room home. But still I am surprised. When will I be free of these categories that prevent me from enjoying who you are? (turning toward one another, p. 117)
Sometimes I’m convinced that I have something in my eye but it turns out that my 70-year old eyes just need a little lubrication on occasion. That’s an easy fix as were the days when, as a child, I occasionally had to go to my mother for help with getting something tiny like a fleck of dirt or – at worst – an eyelash out of my eye. It was always amazing how much larger the offending material appeared than it really was.
Jesus must have been really disturbed by the judgmental behavior of his disciples in today’s gospel text to use such hyperbolic language about seeing clearly. It’s that quote from Matthew 7:1-5 where he warns them to stop judging unless they want to be similarly judged. His follow-up question points to just how serious an infraction judging people is. “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye” he says, “but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” Even a wooden splinter would be quite painful.
It seems to me that judging others is one of our most common “tragic flaws.” We judge people by what they wear, how they style their hair, the color of their skin and where they live as represented by the accent in their speech. How ridiculous is that? One of the more recent red flags for harsh judgment is body art (tattoos) or piercings. Before judging why someone would want to “do that to their body,” we might want to think about that “why” question.
I could go on but I already clearly experienced the message in the middle of the second paragraph when I had to stop writing and put drops in my eyes. (This is not a joke. I really had to do that!) So here’s a suggestion that might make a difference in our consciousness. Before we decide to just “live and let live,” why not strike up a conversation with someone different in some way from you and see if you can come to understand just a bit more deeply why the person looks, speaks or acts in a different manner from you. If we do that, maybe we wouldn’t need so much help getting those planks out of our eyes!
I almost disregarded the first reading from today’s lectionary (ACTS 9:1-20) – not because it held nothing worthy of comment but because it seemed so familiar. I know the story of Paul’s conversion and know that it appears in the liturgical calendar more than once a year. I decided, however, to read it again for a possible point of inspiration and, of course, I was not disappointed.
What struck me this morning was the response of Ananias when he was told in a vision to go and get Paul from the house on Straight Street and lay hands on him so that Paul would regain his sight. Ananias was not pleased to have been given this task for two reasons. He had heard from others about the evil Paul had perpetrated against the people of Jerusalem and, secondly, in Damascus Paul had authority from the chief priests to imprison the followers of Jesus. It was unthinkable to him that the Lord would choose Paul as an instrument for spreading the news of Christ. Good arguments, to be sure, but in the end, at the final command, “Go,” he went.
So I’m thinking about how difficult it is sometimes to follow the laws that Christ has set before us, laws of love and compassion and generosity to those we think do not deserve to be helped. It would sometimes be easier to ignore the grumpy people, the lazy ones or those whose politics do not mirror our own. Surrender of our own sense of righteousness is rarely easy. Sometimes, however, in the surrender we find small – or great – miracles. After all, it was Ananias who became the instrument of Saul’s cure. As soon as he laid hands on Paul, announcing he was sent by the Lord, the scales fell from Paul’s eyes and he was baptized.
What might happen if we determined to welcome all those above-mentioned people whom we would rather avoid? What might we learn from engagement in their lives? How much larger might our own lives become because of the merits of diversity we would gain? And what if we resisted judging people because others had told us what they were like rather than seeing them for ourselves? Let us think on these things…
In case anyone was in doubt about the meaning of the directive at the beginning of today’s gospel passage where Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful,” the rest of the short text (LK 6:36-38) sounds like a “call and response” chant that a teacher might use in school to define what s/he means. Teacher: “When I say ‘Stop judging,’ you say…” Students: “And you will not be judged.” Following are prompts to stop condemning, forgive, and give, with the overarching conclusion that “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Even though that clearly sounds like “tit-for-tat” or giving to get, I never think of it that way, most likely because I continually see Jesus moving us toward more generosity. It is, however, quite clear – in a staccato sort of way – that we need to wake up to an inventory of our behaviors to see how we’re treating one another. I’m pretty good, I think, in the giving and forgiving arenas and I try never to condemn anyone because I rarely know the depth of anyone else’s heart. Judging, though, is just so easy to do! It seems to arise almost automatically sometimes. I think I’ll be working on that one until I take my last breath, but if I breathe out the last of my judgments at that moment, I guess I will have made the grade in God’s embrace.
I am remembering a time when my cousin’s daughter was dating a tattoo artist and relatives in my generation began to worry about her reputation as piercing and tattoos began to appear on her body. Never mind that she was bright and attending college while living with her grandparents to help them as they aged. Never mind her wonderful personality and winning smile, because tattooed ladies did not belong in our family! Now when “body art” is everywhere, my young cousin is moving toward the ripe old age of 40 and is recognized by everyone as the brilliant star that she has always been, if only others had taken the time to truly know her.
How often we judge by appearances! Today’s lesson from chapter 16 of the first book of Samuel has a great example of the danger of that stance. As Samuel was introduced to seven sons of Jesse from whom Saul’s successor was to be chosen, God kept saying, “Nope, not him!” until there were none left before him. (It sounds a little bit like a comedy routine if we imagine Samuel getting more and more agitated every time God rejects one of those presented to him.) When Samuel says to Jesse, “Don’t you have anyone else???” (Can’t you hear the exasperation?) Jesse had to wake up to the fact that it might be David, the youngest, the sheep herder, the dreamer that God had chosen. And so it was.
It’s a great story and an important lesson for us – not to judge a person by clothing or speech or degree of education or position in the work-a-day world…because not as humans see does God see, because people judge the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart. (1 SM 16:7) I will remember that today as I go about my various appointments and look for clues to the hearts beating all around me.