Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: Instruction of Jesus
By: Fr. Brendan Byrne
Homily for Sunday, March 3 2019
With the Gospel of today (Luke 6:39-45) we come to the third major section from Jesus’ instruction to his disciples known as the Sermon on the Plain.
Where the section set for last week dealt with action towards others, now we seem to have something that is trying to reach deeper: to the wellspring of action found in the human heart. Get the heart – the fundamental attitude – right, Jesus seems to be saying, and all else will follow.
The opening commands not to judge and not to condemn are already bound up with this. They raise the issue of just how difficult it is for people to have the kind of understanding that would really allow them to make judgments of others. The illustrations of one blind person leading another and of attempting to remove the speck in a neighbour’s eye when one has a log in one’s own are, again, as is so often the case with Jesus’ image and illustrations, exaggerated and humorous. It is so hard to know what is in one’s own heart – to recognise the ‘plank’ that may be there, inhibiting right vision and right judgment. Yet, even with such impediment, we are still so confident that we can see and set about rooting out the failings of others. If God, who really does see the heart, acts with such generosity, understanding and compassion, then that – not judgment and condemnation – should surely be the model for human interaction.
This should certainly be the case within the community of the kingdom. But Jesus may also mean it to apply even to outsiders who persecute and maltreat members of the community (see Paul’s handling of this issue in Rom 12:17-21).
GET THE HEART RIGHT
This leads into a more general reflection on the continuity that must prevail between the heart – the ultimate source of human behavior – and the external action that flows from it. This has been well prepared for by the short First Reading from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 27:4-7, with its swift series of vivid images illustrating how a person’s quality can be told from their speech. Where the Old Testament reading goes from speech to heart, the instruction of Jesus, using the image of a tree and its fruits, goes in the opposite direction: from heart to words. But both make the same point: get the heart right and all else falls into place. Religion, and above all judgment made in the name of religion, must proceed from conversion of heart, and a truly humble and accurate appraisal of oneself. Otherwise, it will be simply dangerous and destructive.
The Second Reading, 1 Cor 15:54-58, offers the highly rhetorical, festive conclusion of Paul’s instruction on the resurrection – more specifically since 15:35 on the possibility of believers sharing in the bodily risen existence of Christ. In the section just preceding Paul has described death as the ‘last enemy’, the one outstanding force not yet totally subject to the power of the risen Lord. Though death continues, Paul, in a vivid image, asserts that Christ has drawn its ‘sting’. That is, that he has overcome that which, like the sting of a poisonous spider, gave physical death power to be eternal death: namely, sin. Believers may still die physically but the gift of the Spirit, as a consequence of the resurrection of Jesus, will enable them to live the righteous lives that will ensure their own resurrection and hence death’s final conquest (Rom 8:3-17). In this sense the power of the risen Lord operative within them ensures that even now they can claim ‘victory’.
Somewhat curiously and perhaps unnecessarily, since it was not an issue in Corinth, as for example in Galatia, Paul adds a passing shot at the Law. He seems to have always been on guard lest his converts from the Gentile (non-Jewish) world would be enticed to submit themselves to the practice of the Jewish law. In light of the paschal mystery Paul sees the law ranged on the side of the old era of sin and death that has been overtaken by God’s action in Christ.
Paul’s long instruction about the resurrection ends on a strong note of encouragement. ‘Keep on working’, he says, ‘at the Lord’s work, knowing that in the Lord, you cannot be laboring in vain’. Though so often we seem to be getting nowhere and are tempted to give up, the hope of resurrection means that nothing is valueless, nothing – even failure and seeming defeat – is wasted. It is all part of a great design in which the power of the risen Lord is at work in us, overcoming the forces of death and negativity to reclaim the universe for life and for humanity. Though, as is usually the case, Paul’s instruction has little in common with the Gospel, it is very consoling in its own right.
Fr. Brendan Byrne SJ Jesuit Theological College Parkville, Victoria, Australia