Gospel for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (3 March 2019)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or 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.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:39-45 – NRSV).
Luke’s “sermon on the plain” begins in a prophetic tone with the beatitudes and the woes – see 6:2-26. This is followed immediately with the challenging call to love of enemies and all those who hurt you – see 6:27-35. This section of the sermon is rounded out by the summary statement, “be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” – see 6:36-38. The sermon is then concluded with the wisdom sayings – 6:39-49. This latter wisdom section would resonate very strong with the Greek audience: “Indeed, if this section were excerpted, it would not seem—with the exceptions to be noted—out of place in the writings of many Hellenistic moralists, at least in its major concerns. We find here typical stylistic elements: the alternating of negative and positive commands; the use of apostrophe and rhetorical questions; the employment of examples. And we see the typical concerns for actions flowing from a certain character or ‘heart’, of action not speech defining convictions, of teaching and learning as a matter of guidance and mutual correction” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 115). However, there is one profound difference between Luke’s wisdom writings and that of his Greek contemporaries: “The ethics of the kingdom is not defined simply by reason or character; it is based in a covenantal relationship with the living God” (Ibid)
a parable: Although the Greek word is parabolē and it is in the singular, the obvious intent it to put before the listeners/readers a series of proverb-like sayings. We find Luke using the word parabolē in a similar way in 4:23 and 5:36.
Can a blind person guide a blind person?: St Paul reminds us that one of the functions of the teacher is to be a “guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness” (Romans 2:19). Joseph Fitzmyer writes: “The disciples are to be leaders of people, but they cannot be blinded guides; they must see the way first. In the context of “not judging,” the saying about blindness might seem to refer to one’s own faults. If a person has not learned self-criticism, he/she cannot lead others. But the collocation of this verse with the following, and the connection between “the blind” and “leaders” with “pupils” and “teachers” seems to suggest that more is involved, i.e. a reference to false teachers. “Leading” (hodēgein) is used here as in Acts 8:31. This emerges from the following context” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes, New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 641-642).
When Matthew uses the same metaphor of the blind guides, it is clearly a polemic against the Pharisees – see Matthew 15:14.
Thomas Merton attended a conference of Benedictines at the Red Cross Conference Centre in Bangkok in December 1968. He was accidentally electrocuted by a faulty fan whilst there. Not long before he set out from Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, he wrote the following words in a circular letter to his friends: “Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action. I pray we may all do so generously. God bless you” (The Road to Joy: The Letters of Thomas Merton to New and Old Friends, edited by Robert E Daggy, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989, 118).
In today’s Gospel – Luke 6:39-45 – Jesus refers to the human heart as the source of all our behaviours, both good and bad. He is echoing the preaching of John the Baptist: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). (The word “repentance” translates the Greek metanoias. The call to metanoia – conversion of heart – goes hand in hand with the call to discipleship.) All our relationships – with God, other people and the events and things of our world – will be shaped by our relationship with ourselves.
Negatively, we can say that all our pain, our conflicts, our unfaced fears and anxieties, our evasions and pretenses, will find their way into the way we live. Transform it or transmit it! That is hardly good news for anybody, especially those who are close to us and have to deal with us on a daily basis.
Positively, we can say however that all our best possibilities, our freedom, our capacity to love and our ability to be a transforming presence in the world, is potentially there in our interior life. And it is not a matter of introspection, analysis or willfully striving to make that inner journey. We are made for it, we respond naturally to it when we allow the truth to break in on us. The “allowing” means, in practice, facing what must be faced, doing what must be done, submitting to the truth in those concrete moments of our days. It means encountering God – Infinite Love! – in the ordinary events of our days. Once we have tasted God all the rest will follow. We will be drawn by delight, even amidst the darker times. Until we have tasted God, we had better hasten slowly! Keep turning up. Pay attention. Listen! Gradually we will learn one of life’s most difficult lessons – how to grow by waiting.
Most of our inappropriate behaviours are symptoms of the heart. Rather than get into a tussle with the inappropriate behaviours, go to your heart. Your heart needs you to listen. Do that by asking the open question: “What is happening?” An open question is one you ask with your head and answer with your stomach. It is a loving question. When the affairs of the heart are attended to, the affairs of life will follow suit.