8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 27, 2022
A pastor was visiting one of his parishioners and as they were talking, the conversation began to lag. The lady of the house, wanting to pick up the conversation, pointed out her window to her neighbor’s backyard, where the neighbor’s wash was hanging on the line. She said, “See my neighbor’s wash hanging outside! Look at how dirty it is! They never hang out a clean wash.” The pastor felt a little uncomfortable, quickly changed the subject, and drew the visit to a close. As he was getting ready to leave, the lady of the house walked out on the front porch with him and, again, they both could see the neighbor’s wash hanging outside. They discovered, that the neighbor’s wash wasn’t dirty at all! It was sparkling white! –Just as white as any wash could ever be! The truth began to dawn on them. It wasn’t the neighbor’s laundry that was dirty. It was the window in the lady’s house, through which they viewed the wash, that was dirty!
Hypocrisy! That’s what this story and our gospel focus on today! Indeed, Jesus admonishes his disciples, “Take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Lk 6:42b) Wise words, indeed! The word, hypocrite has its origin in the Greek, meaning ‘an actor.’ — someone who puts on a show for others to see, but doesn’t reveal his/her true self on stage. A hypocrite in our gospel also refers to someone who lacks sincerity of heart, one who’s quick to point out the faults and failings of others without ever acknowledging his/her own. And Jesus will have none of it!
No, Jesus wants his disciples to commit to living an authentic life, one in which Gospel values become the norm and one in which we are honest about our own shortcomings and are willing to admit our failures to others. The remedy Jesus recommends for hypocrisy is the virtue of humility.
Derived from the word ‘humus,’ humility refers to getting back to the earth, being rooted in the dirt, being incarnated in the ground. It serves as a reminder to us that we’re dust and unto dust we shall, one day return! It’s quite appropriate then, as Ash Wednesday is right around the corner from us! Oftentimes, though, this isn’t what we think of, when we think of humility. We often confuse humble actions with pious actions. It’s pious to genuflect at your pew, to nod to the altar, to bow when receiving communion. Humble actions refer to much more! They refer to being continually conscious of God’s presence in our lives, both inside and outside of church, and being willing to accept God’s will, particularly in moments of suffering and difficulty. Such a consciousness serves as a wake-up call for us to view ourselves, with all our limited capacities and imperfections, as persons formed from the ground and yet, fashioned to give glory and praise to our Creator God, in whatever circumstance in which we may find ourselves.
Jesus gets right to the point when he rhetorically asks his disciples, “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.” (Lk 6: 42) You see, Jesus noticed that some of his disciples were so fixated on the inadequacies of others, their weaknesses, their temptations to sin, that they were, in effect, ignoring their own shortcomings, feebleness, and proclivities to sin. And that fundamental failure to look inwardly at themselves FIRST, and to correct what may be lacking in themselves, BEFORE looking at the flaws and failures of others, makes his disciples untrustworthy guides— persons whom Jesus describes and leading others into a pit and falling into it themselves!
The challenge Jesus presents for his contemporary disciples is to consider whether we do the same!
Do we point the finger at others’ faults without seeing the other fingers pointing right back at us? Do we think we’re holier than thou and beyond scrutiny ourselves? Our first reading today from the Book of Sirach reminds us that, “a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of the mind. Do not praise someone before they speak, for this is the way people are tested.” (Sir 27: 6b-7) In other words, what we speak about, how we speak about others, reveals the state of our own spiritual progress. In a nutshell, if we want to be holy, our character must precede our actions. If our heart is full of anger, resentment, mistrust and judgmental attitudes, our speech will reflect those same qualities.
Conversely, if our hearts are full of honesty, good-will, receptivity, and merciful love, then our speech will reflect those self-same qualities. We can tell which way we’re acting by whether we project our own feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and lack of self-esteem on others, in a vain attempt to scrape up some self-worth, some value in our own eyes, and most especially, in the eyes of others. The problem is, that this attempt to prop ourselves up, happens at another’s expense. The only remedy is a healthy dose of humility.
Being humble, first and foremost, means accepting the limits of being human, of being made of earth and clay. And irrevocably connected to that, is the realization of our utter dependence on God for everything. Left to their own resources, Jesus’ disciples would still have been stuck in the muck of their arrogance, hatred, mistrust and sin. But when they gave up trying to be somebody, when they gave up trying to be better than everyone else, when they gave up the vying for privileged positions and prestige among themselves, then they were finally ready to let God be God, and to allow the Lord to destroy the effects of sin and hypocrisy in their own lives.
Once we realize we’re helpless against sin on our own, we’re headed in the right direction! With St. Paul in our second reading from his first letter to the Corinthians, we can then exclaim, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Cor 15: 57) For it’s Jesus who shows us the path to a humble life! He was true to himself by courageously embracing the will of his Father in Heaven, without reservation, without concern for the cost, without regard for what others might think of him. And as he hung on the cross, naked and left to be ridiculed by those who didn’t believe in him, he revealed to all the world, the horrendous pain human beings can inflict on those who are blinded by their own hypocrisy and sin.
Jesus, now risen from the dead and gloriously triumphant over those who sought to silence his good news and his divine message, longs to remove the logs from our eyes and to show us how precious and priceless we are, in God’s sight! He wants us to emulate his humble spirit by being persons who look beyond the faults of others to whom God calls each person to be. He wants us to see beyond the mean, distasteful, deceitful and angry people that we sometimes encounter and to recognize how often our own emotions often get out of control and result in violent attacks on the character of others. For when it comes down to it, any fault or failing we recognize in another, invariably comes right back to us. The only one who can point the finger is God, and God’s Son chose to point to our hearts, to our innermost selves, as the place where true change and lasting transformation originates, from where true humility is born, and in which God longs to dwell.
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