Friends, this is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time for a while as we move into the holy season of Lent with Ash Wednesday this next week. The ashes are a sign of our vulnerability in this life and point the way to a new and different life one day with God. I say, “a new and different life” because our God is with us, every day, closer to us than we are to ourselves, it has been said; but this will be different! In fact, we are told that we can’t even imagine what God has prepared for us! These thoughts are no doubt close to us this week as we reflect on Michael Maher’s passing and the fragility of life. We will talk of this more as we move into Lent, but for now, let’s look at the messages of this week.
Our day in and day out life with our God as followers of our brother, Jesus, can be said quite well, I think in Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians today: [Be] “fully engaged in the work of Jesus.”
We might ask then—just what does this “work” entail? As you know; I am fond of saying, “It’s all about love!” In any situation, we must apply the law of love, especially when we aren’t sure of the way to go in a particular situation that we are confronted with. If we can answer that, love is being served, that we are doing the most loving thing in what we are choosing to do, that the needs of others and not just those of myself will be addressed, then we can be quite sure that we are more “fully engaged in the work of Jesus” as Paul says.
And more specifically, Sirach zeroes in on our actions saying that, “It is in conversation, in a person’s words that we will know their worth.” It is another way of saying, “You will know the truth—the good of something, “by the fruits.” In our own time this past week, three white men were convicted of hate crimes against a black man by merit of their hate-filled posts on social media.
Sirach’s words are fulfilled in Jesus’ words today from Luke, “All people speak from their heart’s abundance—a good tree does not produce decayed fruit any more than a decayed tree produces good fruit.” I have been especially challenged of late as I look at my own reactions to some of the world’s many, many instances of injustice. A war waged on an innocent country by a bully a world away but affecting that world and its people and many others around our beautiful earth through commerce and daily living needs. So, I have to answer myself and address the anger I feel and express verbally at times and ask if it has gone beyond “righteous” anger.
I think many times my friends, we confuse seemingly righteous actions with what is the right thing to do, and we can only discover that in the depths of our hearts and work for a balance.
As I listened to the news coming out of Washington and around the world this week, I found that when it comes to the issue of one country waging war on another country, and especially with Putin’s Russia, the two political parties in our country can seem to find agreement for the most part on what our country needs to do, when they can’t on anything else that involves the needs of people in their day-to-day lives.
I think that the words from our prophets today, serve us well. “Be steadfast and persevering, fully engaged in the work of Christ,” that we all speak from the abundance in our hearts, and that our words speak louder perhaps than our actions. Whether a person is believable or not seems to stem from the impression they have made on us—which includes their words, as well as their actions!
Diane Bergant, Scripture scholar, speaks to this issue in her commentary on today’s readings. As we all know, and she makes the point of saying; one only has one chance to make a good first impression. The trouble with this, she continues, is that our culture often holds up less than good criteria for what makes a “good, or acceptable” person—many times the criteria have to do with external things; the clothes we wear, the shape of our bodies and so on. And how unfortunate if we never go any deeper than that!
It is only in living—through our life experiences, and with others, she suggests, that we come to see what is most important about those we meet in our lives—what they are made of–on the inside. This is called, “wisdom”—something we hopefully come to in our lifetimes.
When we are driven by the externals alone, she goes on, the genuine person loses out. Part of our anger and at times, hopelessness, it seems to me, in viewing day-to-day issues is the lack of genuineness, of truth, of those willing to speak truth to power, boldly and with conviction, demonstrating what are the tenets of integrity-truth and faith perhaps, upon which many of us stand.
I was encouraged this past week in hearing a story out of India that shared that the country has no “anti-vaxers.” One has to wonder why that is when in our country, the anti-vaxers have literally slowed down the time when our country can move back into more “free” lives. It would seem that this is one of the down sides to our gift of freedom. Additionally, I think it comes from many in this country, from high places especially, using the good will of others to support their own selfish needs.
According to Sirach, Bergant reminds us, the true test of the “pot” is seen in the firing. In other words, none of this will be easy—change is always hard and especially for those who have been entrenched so long on a certain path.
But again, as Paul reminds us today; we must be “fully engaged in the work of Jesus.” If that had been the case, many ills in our country and Church, i.e. slavery, burning so-called “witches,” the sexual abuse of children could never have gone on as long as they did. And it isn’t enough for us to lay blame, but we must all be part of the solution that we want to see, instead of, part of the problem. And this, granted, can be unclear at times.
Just because we see something as good, doesn’t mean that we should necessarily do it—have we included the needs of all, including ourselves and possibly others that we work with in what we are about to do?
Jesus had no time for hypocrites, a word that in the Greek, Bergant reminds us, means play-acting or pre-tense. It was Jesus who stressed that we should never correct others before we have corrected ourselves—the story of the speck in their eyes versus the plank in our own. Self-righteousness clouds our view of our own faults.
So, my friends, let us pray for strength, for all, to be steadfast in the belief that our God loves us all and we do this best by keeping our eyes on Jesus. Sometimes we make the mistake of believing that Jesus never said, “no” that everyone who asked, got a “yes.” The truth is that he always tried to challenge people to be the best they could be in order to be good and just to others and sometimes, the “other” was in fact, themselves. Amen? Amen!”