This weekend we have visiting priests/homilists, so I have a “preaching holiday” so to speak. The unusual thing is that this is the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. What’s is unusual about that? Because of the shifting schedules of Lent/Easter and the end-of-liturgical year Christ the King Sunday it does not often get celebrated. In my priestly life, I have never had to preach the 8th Sunday/Year C. Nor as it happens will I this year… but I have some thoughts.
I was captured by the first reading from Sirach: “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks. As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just. The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had;
so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” (Sirach 27:4-7) How many of us have, in the “tribulation” of being upset, annoyed, frustrated, angry, confused (and more) have said thing that we almost instantly wish we had not said, could take back, or hope the other person says, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. What did you say?”
“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)
As the Anglican scholar John Nolan simplifies: “Whether one likes it or not, what one produces is finally a product of what one is.”
But there is perhaps a subtle distinction to be made between the instantaneous thought, conclusion or judgement – and the decision to verbalize it.We are all familiar with Jesus’ “Judge not lest you be judged.” In the gospel, Jesus was talking about a particular kind of judgment. The judgment in view is the inclination to condemn others for their faults and failures. Disciples do not grow better by comparing themselves with someone else. Some of us have gotten so sharp that we can put someone else down with just the quickest flick of the tongue. We are black belts in innuendo and faint praise. Not a speck in our brother’s eye escapes our notice. ‘The Smiths are fine people,’ we say. ‘I just don’t know why they bought a house in that neighborhood.’ ‘Aunt Bea, bless her heart, just never would let Arnold stand on his own feet.’ ‘Oh, I love that dress. It’s just right for you. Did you find it on sale?’ Of course, we would never judge others. Sometimes we merely ‘speak the truth in love’ with a little too much relish. (Alan R. Culpepper). As the Anglican scholar John Nolan notes: “Whether one likes it or not, what one produces is finally a product of what one is.”
The fruit of our seeing and judging is our action – often our words. There is also the moment for grace when we have a reaction and a thought and we leave a bit of room for the Holy Spirit. Maybe in the blessed space we can realize the problem is ours – and as our parents always told us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” And in our non-response lies the potential for conversion of heart, an increase in the store of goodness.
Our judgements might not be wrong, but that does not need we need to express them unless we can make our words – true, necessary and helpful. It is often the last two attributes that can elude our words. That is especially where the grace of Spirit can add to the storehouse of goodness.